St. Norbert College offers students many diverse opportunities through organizations on campus, but perhaps one of the most unique is becoming a part of the TRIPS Program. The acronym T.R.I.P.S. stands for “Turning Responsibility Into Powerful Service,” and that is exactly what the organization aims to do by sending students on a variety of trips around the country to participate in service projects focused on social justice issues.
In December of this past year, we had the amazing opportunity to participate in the trip titled “Children’s Medical: Stitched with Love.” This week-long trip would take us to Memphis, Tennessee, where our group of nine SNC students, two of them being trip leaders, would volunteer at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and explore other service opportunities throughout the city of Memphis. Most of our group started out as strangers; however, by the end of the week, it seemed as if we had been life-long friends.
For both of us, this was our first time going on a trip as a part of the TRIPS Program, and we can confidently say that the experience was absolutely amazing.
Over the course of the week in Memphis, we volunteered at various locations including the Ronald McDonald House, HOPE Lodge, and the FedExFamilyHouse offering entertainment, meals, and baked goods for families. A majority of our volunteer work was done at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, ranked one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. At the hospital, students were led by the volunteer services coordinator to complete various tasks. These tasks included running a drink cart that provided complimentary hot beverages (and donuts) to patients and their families, hosting a game show on the hospital’s closed-circuit TV station for patients to participate as contestants, delivering donated Christmas gifts to patients and siblings, and other miscellaneous tasks such as putting together welcoming bags and sorting through donations.
One of our main focuses as volunteers was serving as a unit buddy. After some training, we were allowed to visit specific patient floors and offer our services to both patients and parents, whether it be playing games with a patient while the parents stepped out for a while or keeping a sibling company while a patient underwent treatment. Being a unit buddy is truly a unique experience, offering a new perspective on a patient’s stay in a hospital. The overwhelming gratitude we felt from parents, patients, and even the staff was unimaginable.
We were fortunate enough to be the first group from Saint Norbert to visit Le Bonheur this year, which meant that we got to volunteer during the Holiday season. Although children being stuck in the hospital over the holidays is not ideal, Le Bonheur and their Child Life Specialists do their absolute best to spread holiday cheer. They did so through Christmas crafts, songs, games, movies, themed game shows, and other special events. We even got to dress up as Christmas trees and elves while walking around the hospital.
Although volunteering in a hospital, especially one specialized in pediatrics, is a daunting task, it was truly a remarkable experience that will never be forgotten.