Summer volunteers celebrated at Maimonides

When 19-year-old Geoffrey Wong was growing up, his grandmotherhad chronic health problems. It was by watching her struggle – shelived with his family at the time – that his fear about her healthturned into a drive to learn the practice of medicine.

I constantly saw ambulances and felt helpless, so it seemedlike the right field for me [to go into], Wong said.

Wong and the 264 other participants in the 2011 MaimonidesMedical Center Summer Youth Program were on hand on August 17 for arecognition ceremony marking the completion of the program, held inthe hospital’s Schreiber Auditorium.

These guys are our future and I’m very proud they’re going tobe our future, said Douglas Jablon, senior vice president ofpatient relations and volunteer services at Maimonides, who firstorganized the program over a decade ago.

Jablon and other program coordinators were pleased to report a60-person increase in volunteer numbers from last year, despite thefact that many of their partnering organizations had experiencedsubstantial budget cuts. The bump in participants is because of theprogram’s appeal, according to Director of Volunteer Services AllaZats.

Despite all the budget cuts, we’ve expanded because Maimonidesis so popular, Zats said. Kids want to be here.

Rhadames Rivera, vice president of the 1199SEIU UnitedHealthcare Workers East that sponsors 28 students in the program,feels the hospital is helping to get young people involved in afield which needs them now more than ever.

The health industry needs young people, Rivera said. Ourpopulation is getting older. There is a great need for socialworkers in the community. There is a great need for ambulanceworkers in the community. There is a great need for doctors in thecommunity.

But according Zats, beyond the medical experience the programoffers, it is also a chance for participants to experience anunprecedented level of cultural diversity.

We have probably more bilingual participants here than anyother place in the world, Zats said. We have 40 to 50 languagesspoken. We train those who are fully proficient in two languages insimultaneous interpretation so they can provide interpreterservices for patients who don’t speak English.

All of which adds up to a pretty unforgettable experience,according to Wong.

It’s fun talking to patients, helping out when you can, becauseyou know it’s a good cause, he said.

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