Youth from around the world join together to care for the human spirit

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Every summer, Ottawa’s SCO Health Service and their volunteer resources team opens their doors to more than 120 young volunteers from across the Outaouais region, for an initiative entitled, the Youth Summer Program. Over a period of six weeks, teens aged 13-18 years-old contribute an average of 40 hours to the organization, gaining excellent work and life experience. This unique program is not only educational for the teens but also for the patients as they get to interact with an age group that they otherwise don’t meet with very often.

The goal of the program is to provide youth with the opportunity to explore career options, increase social awareness, learn from service, gain self confidence, discover strengths and talent, build on sense of independence and develop skills. Karen Lemaire, manager of the volunteer services departments says: “The youth of today constantly impress me. Their enthusiasm with the patients and residents is simply contagious.”

In partnership with the Youth Summer Program, and for the past three years, a group of Japanese students have also come to volunteer alongside the youths for a week in August. Each student is partnered with a Canadian youth volunteer to facilitate communication with the patients and residents as none of the Japanese students are able to speak English. According to the evidence of the smiles on their faces; language does not appear to be a barrier as the students, youth, patients and residents seem to love the experience.

The youth have a variety of opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the patients and residents. Often it’s by interacting with them on the floors, but it can also be through special events such as a beach party and a talent show. The talent show took place at Saint-Vincent Hospital in early August and patients were excited to see the familiar and friendly faces of their new teen volunteer friends they had come to know so well begin to perform musical routines for their entertainment. Patients cheered in support and tapped their feet and hands to the rhythm of the music. The show began with a song appropriately titled “We’re all in it together,” which perfectly described the teamwork mentality the teens all share. The afternoon consisted of several song and dance routines as well as instrumental interludes.

Saint-Vincent Hospital patient Anastasia (Soula) Tsitiridis was among those watching the talent show and had only positive sentiments to share on the event. “The singing and dancing was great,” she says. “If I could, I would have joined in and shown them some of my own talents, like Greek dancing.” Ms. Tsitiridis was pleased for the variation the talent show gave her. Days can sometimes be long for the patients of Saint-Vincent Hospital but with a little entertainment from an energetic group like the youth volunteers it can turn an ordinary day into a special one that will have lasting memories.

One of the most memorable performances was the traditional Japanese folk dance performed by four Japanese exchange students, who are spending their summer abroad to learn about other cultures. Dressed in their colourful kimonos, Miho Ikegaya, Mika Tajima, Shuri Takagi and Yumi Enuma were greeted on stage by applause and cheers from the crowd. When asked of their time in Ottawa, the girls all agreed that if they could they would gladly come back to visit Ottawa and the patients of Saint-Vincent Hospital again someday.

Natasha Gaudin, Youth Summer Volunteer Coordinator, SCO Health Service, was honoured she could not only be a part of, but lead an initiative that could bring such joy to so many patients. “It is very rewarding to play a part in enriching the lives of the patients,” Gaudin says. “They are all young at heart and we keep them feeling that way.”

The SCO Health Service Volunteer Resources Youth Summer program is a wonderful intergenerational program. Some of the other notable benefits to youths volunteering include: teamwork experience, leadership skills, lots of fun, new friends and community relationships, discovery of personal strengths, recognition opportunities, sense of personal impact on the community, and the experiences and contributions also look great on a college or university entrance form, resume and/or scholarship application.

Not to mention that bringing life to the units and into the lives of patients and residents continues to be an excellent way for teens to spend their summer.