Clad in her pink-striped vest, Kayleigh Hartman moved in and out of hospital rooms with a cheerful quickness and a ready smile, greeting each patient with a sing-song hello and a fresh pitcher of water.
Hartman, a teen volunteer at St. Joseph Health Center in Warren, said she tries to imagine herself or her family members in the patients' shoes.
"I would want them to be treated with respect," the 18-year-old said as she folded clean white towels.
Hartman, of Cortland, is one of about 35 teen volunteers at St. Joe's. The term "candy striper" has been abandoned in favor of more gender-neutral titles, but teens like Hartman still participate in volunteer programs at area hospitals.
St. Joe's accepts volunteers ages 14-18, said Mary Villareal, president of St. Joseph Health Center Auxiliary. After attending orientation classes and passing a written test that covers basic hospital information, the students can get to work on such tasks as feeding patients, answering patient call lights and running errands for the staff.
While the staff determines which patients are suitable for the volunteers' responsibility, Villareal said that in the 40 years she's been involved with the program, she has seen the students learn responsibility and dependability.
"It's the training ground for future jobs," Villareal said.
Hartman, a senior at Maplewood High School, said she plans to go into some kind of medicine, perhaps the radiological field.
Though Hartman has two years of volunteering behind her, she admitted that she was nervous when she first started in November 2006.
"Working here as a volunteer is a matter of trust," she said.
The first couple of weeks were hard. Often left standing in the hallway with nothing to do, Hartman decided to begin talking to the older patients.
Since the patients are in the wing where she works for surgery, Hartman rarely sees them twice. Still, her job is often a conversation starter.
"I hear a lot of, 'Oh, my daughter was a candy striper when she was your age,'" Hartman said.
Hartman said that she loves talking to the patients. In interacting with them, especially in feeding them, she has learned patience. Volunteering has also taught her to be humble.
"There's nothing glamorous about filling water pitchers or putting towels in people's room," Hartman said.
Despite this, volunteering at the hospital has not been monotonous.
The first time she pushed a patient in a wheelchair was a memorable experience. Though she said that it was a little nerve-racking, Hartman was excited and liked wishing the home-bound patient good luck.
Some parents encourage their children to volunteer in the program, and other students will volunteer to satisfy classroom requirements, Villareal said. Still others will volunteer of their own accord.
Often, those who stay in the program develop self-confidence, Villareal said.
One young woman in particular, Villareal recalled, started volunteering when she was about 14 or 15, spurred on by her mother, who had wanted her daughter to come out of her shell. The young woman was put on the nursing program, and related well to the geriatric patients.
"She suddenly just started blossoming," Villareal remembered.
She volunteered for several years and is now working out of town as a registered nurse.
Leslie Miller, director of volunteer services at Hillside Hospital in Howland, also said volunteering can expose students to different career paths.
Miller remembered one student who started volunteering his junior and senior year. He now plans to go to school for occupational therapy, and wants to work at Hillside.
Of about 150 volunteers at Hillside, about 15 are junior volunteers, Miller says. The program is open to students as young as 14. Rather than being assigned to one particular area, the volunteers are stationed in a variety of areas, from patient transport to the sports complex to the gift shop.
Volunteering gives students the opportunity to be helpful, and to interact and be aware of people with disabilities, Miller said.
"They need to see the other side," she said.