201706-04-28 - Columbia VA Health Care System
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Columbia VA Health Care System



June 13, 2017

Story by Jessica Bailey, Dorn VA Student Volunteer (E.L. Wright Middle School student)


Since 2008, the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center has opened its doors to individuals who want nothing more than to give back to their Veterans, and offer help and assistants to the facility without the thought of monetary compensation. These individuals range from the ages of 13 to 18 years old who volunteer in the nationwide Summer Student Volunteer Program. In this program, students will explore different career options, gain experience in the work force, and learn and talk to Veterans.

Fourteen-year-old Student Volunteer Jeremiah Buting who works in restorative therapy said when he first saw this program he thought it would be a great opportunity to help improve the of health patients.

Students get to talk to Veterans, or what Tammy Finney, chief of voluntary services, likes to call “living history.” Finney explained how student can learn history from the Veterans that you can’t get from a history book. She said, “We have had Veterans in the past provide a Lunch and Learn, and let them share their experiences.”

She explained “We had one Veteran who was a Prisoner of War (POW). The students told me that they have read about (POWs), and that they have learned about them in school. They were intrigued to meet someone, and talk to and converse with someone; where you can ask question that you could not have asked a history book…”

Finney went on to explain that with the world we live in today, most people take things for granted and with this opportunity, and how when students come to the VA to volunteer, they start to understand the sacrifices these Veterans and their families have made, both mentally and physically, and start to appreciate those sacrifices that they’ve made.

This program gives the students an experience of possible career choices that they are interested in, such as pharmaceuticals, technology and nursing. It gives the students a better understanding of what kind of work they have to do, and what it take to make it in that line of work. This gives them opportunities to experience what that career and specialty has to offer.

First-year Student Volunteer at Dorn VA, Zaria Thomas says she is hoping to one day work as a radiologist or an anesthesiologist, and is looking forward to seeing what a working hospital floor looks like. She said this program also help you make informed decisions on their career choice, especially if a student wants to go to college; it helps clarify what they want their major to be.

Even if you are not yet at the age where you can get a job, this program gives you the experience of what it’s like to be in the work force. Tammy Finney said, “Even through some students are not at the age where they can go out and get a job, this program makes you understand what it’s like to wake up in the morning, and know that you are part of a team, and that there are individuals and Veterans who depend on you.”

Jarian Jackson, a 15-year-old Student Volunteer working in restorative therapy hopes for the same thing in summer experience at the Dorn VA, said “I’m looking to develop better work ethic.”       

Students who volunteer at the VA have many benefits and opportunities. Sixteen-year-old Zaria Thomas, who is a first-year Student Volunteer at Dorn VA, in voluntary services is definitely excited about all of the opportunities she is getting from this voluntary experience. Thomas said, “I definitely want to do this for the scholarships; running errands to different departments, and I’m also excited about the Lunch and Learns.” She went on to explain that she is looking forward to getting to know how a hospital works and getting hands on experience in the work force.

Finney expressed the many opportunities the students here are given, “I think that’s the beauty of this program - there is such a wide array of opportunities, such as job opportunities; being a productive citizens, potential scholarship opportunity, and to learn about history through the Veterans they work with. Finney also added that this program will help a “Succession Plan” in which hopefully, by giving young students the opportunity to work at this facility and get to understand the mission of the VA service, that they will have the same passion the employees who work here have today. This generation is setting the ground work, in hope of the next generation can build a high standard for VA service.

Another highlight of the program is the Lunch and Learn sessions. Students get a unique experience at Lunch and Learns where they get to experience different career opportunities the VA, the military and other outside organizations have to offer such as:

  • Backpack Journalist: where student get to capture Veterans story through different journaling styles
  • Team bonding/building activities
  • Practicing lifesaving skills by learning and practicing CPR/AED/First Aid training

Though students have much to gain from this program, they still have some responsibility. Finney said her expectations are clear. She stated, “I expect my volunteers to be mature; to be respectful; to absorb and learn as much as possible from this program; and to have open communication.” She elaborated on her meaning of open communication, saying that with open communication, students get to make suggestions about the programs to make the program better in future whether it’s the graduation ceremony or the lunch and learns. Finney added that with open communication, she hopes to be able the students reach their goals.

There is much diversity in the student summer volunteer program, as students have come from Fort Jackson, different school districts, and even out of state. This gives the students the chance to learn about different experiences and opportunities from someone in a similar age group.

Student Volunteer Jarian Jackson says that one of the things he is most looking forward to is meeting new people, which he will hopefully get to do.

Veterans enjoy sharing their experiences with the volunteers, and it gives the Veterans a chance to take pride in what they have done for their county. They also love to hear about what the students want to do and what plans you have for your future.

Finney said, “Veterans want to invest in your future and your life experiences. They also appreciate to see young people giving back to their community, to their county, to their Veterans, and it warms their hearts to know that youth is taking care of them and want to help give back.”




(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jessica Bailey is a 13-year-old Summer Student Volunteer in the public affairs office at the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center. She is a rising eighth grader from E.L. Wright Middle School in Columbia, S.C.)