Teen volunteers are an important part of all areas of Empath Health, supporting patients, clients and staff. As the founding hospice teen volunteer program in the nation, we take great pride in offering high school students the opportunity to learn through service. During Volunteer Appreciation Month we recognize two exceptional teen volunteers.
Faith Rupkalvis – Outstanding Young Leader Award
Since joining the teen volunteer program in November 2018, Faith Rupkalvis has grown from a quiet newcomer to a trusted program ambassador and dedicated role model. She has donated more than 350 volunteer hours while balancing other extracurriculars and excelling in the academically challenging Medical Magnet Program at Palm Harbor University High School.
“Faith has been a light in the lives of many of our participants, patients and families.,” says Volunteer Coordinator Kathi Wendt, who nominated Rupkalvis. “She truly puts their needs at the forefront of her desire to serve, as evidenced by the diversity of her volunteer roles and outstanding number of service hours.”
Rupkalvis participates in a variety of roles within the teen volunteer programs, including community outreach activities, special events, crafts, baking, continuing education, Lifetime Legacies, Party Pals, Cheer Team and serving on the Regional Teen Leadership Board.
Before COVID-19, teen volunteers visited in-person with Suncoast Hospice patients and Suncoast PACE participants to celebrate special occasions or offer opportunities for socialization. Rupkalvis celebrated special occasions with patients and their families, delivering flowers, cupcakes, a blanket and the most wonderful gift of all – a true interest in the patients themselves. As these celebrations have moved to virtual format, she has continued to make cards and crafts and join in Zoom calls with participants.
Even as activities have shifted to accommodate restrictions on in-person visiting, Rupkalvis has met these changes with unwavering dedication. She consistently participates in creating colorful chalk drawings outside of care facilities and creating cheerful crafts for clinical staff to share with patients. It is not uncommon to see her riding her bike to the service center to deliver these volunteer assignments, even on hot summer days. Wendt notes that on several occasions she has received thank you notes from grateful patients who have been impacted by Rupkalvis.
Now in her second year as a member of the Leadership Board, Rupkalvis has embraced the responsibilities of the position. She makes welcome and birthday phone calls and helps plan activities for other teen volunteers across the county. Rupkalvis often took the lead during visits with patients, helping to mentor new volunteers and facilitate meaningful interactions.
“This has been a great opportunity for me to connect with the older generation. It’s really pushed me to speak to a lot of different people I probably never would have,” says Rupkalvis. “In a time when we don’t get to see each other as much, it’s nice to just see how appreciative patients are for something as simple as chalk art and the smiles of my fellow volunteers.”
Ian Polachy – The Cassidy, Cloe, Berkley Wilder Hospice Teen Scholarship Recipient
The Cassidy, Cloe, Berkley Wilder Hospice Teen Scholarship is awarded to a graduating Suncoast Hospice Teen Volunteer who has shown dedication to volunteerism while maintaining academic excellence.
This year’s recipient is Ian Polachy, a senior at Largo High school with a grade point average of unweighted 3.52/weighted 4.02. He is involved in a number of extracurriculars including working two part-time jobs and participating in the Pinellas County Schools All-County Orchestra.
Polachy began volunteering with Empath Health the summer before his freshman year and has dedicated more than 695 service hours so far. He received the Empath Health Outstanding Young Leader Award in 2021.
“Ian’s enthusiasm and level of involvement is on a plane all its own,” says Volunteer Coordinator Jill-Anne Fowler. “He has been fearless and curious and is a good role model for other teens.”
Over the past four years Polachy has been involved in a number of Empath Health volunteer opportunities including patient birthday parties, Cheer Team visits, assisting at the Resale Shops and helping to collect patient stories for the Lifetime Legacies and Veterans History Day programs. He has also held multiple leadership positions as an Empath Health volunteer including serving as a Cheer Team Leader and a Leadership Board member.
“I have learned so much from all the different volunteer opportunities that have been presented to me,” says Polachy. “They have allowed me to become a more active listener and better able to connect with people from all walks of life.”
Through his volunteer activities, Polachy has his sights set on becoming a history teacher. He hopes to use his experience to act as a bridge from the Greatest Generation to the leaders of tomorrow.
“Because of the Veterans History Day Project I have heard stories that may never be told in person again. Hearing these stories made me realize I have a strong passion for history,” he adds. “My time with Empath Health also helped me understand the importance of my grandfather’s Air Force stories. I hope to pass these stories on to future students.”
Help Your Community – Be a Volunteer
To learn more about our volunteer opportunities visit EmpathHealth.org/Volunteer.