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Your Donations In Action: An Insider Look at Rady Children's Hospital

I always knew that one day I would go into healthcare. I never really understood what exactly it was that I wanted for myself, but I did know that one day I would hopefully be wearing a white coat and that I would have the title of doctor of some sort. 


Coming to San Diego State was incredibly overwhelming for me as an out of state student from Nashville, Tennessee. Obviously, my experience was not an isolated one as I had many new friends around me who were also navigating freshman year. Everyone has these feelings of confusion about what they want to get involved in and what they want their college experience to look like. For myself, I needed to make sure that I was on top of my school work and making sure that I was in organizations that would make me an amazing applicant for higher education beyond undergrad. 


One night that year I was stressing over school and my RA knocked on my door to ask me if I had five dollars to sign up for some dance thing that I had no idea about. She had asked everyone on my floor to do it and I was not about to be the first one to not sign up! Later, she explained that it was an overnight dance marathon where we dance to raise money for kids at the local children’s hospital. I signed up and I forgot about it until she had to remind me to raise money for the event to be able to go. 


I still was not completely sure what I was getting myself into and all I heard was that this would be a 15 hour dance party and all I could think was that there is no way I can make it through that many hours of dancing. Little did I know, I was going to be devastated to not be able to stay the entire time. I had never seen such an amazing event be put on by other college students and was incredibly astounded at the fact that one organization could raise as much money as they did. The games, the music, the people, all of these things were such minimal elements to something that I never imagined would affect me so much. I remember who I spent my first Dance Marathon with and the community that I felt so strongly around me that night. It made me feel a change in myself I could not ignore and I knew there was more I could do. 


Dance Marathon was such a great way for me to contribute towards Rady Children’s Hospital, but I was convinced that there would be an opportunity to help on a more personal level. At this point, I was a sophomore and looked into various volunteer programs in different hospitals in San Diego. Rady Children’s was my number one choice and I was determined to get a position within their College Volunteer Program. After waiting a few months for their application period to open I was lucky enough to be offered a spot and I would have never imagined how it would become such an integrated part of my college experience. 


When I first applied for my position I expressed my interest in working in healthcare, but was unsure about what specifically I wanted to do. The coordinators decided to put me on one of the surgical unit floors within the Rose Pavilion. I was told I would be paired to work under the supervision of a Child Life Specialist and I had no idea what any of the new terms they were throwing at me meant but I knew I was excited. 


When I get to Rady Children’s I first open up the playroom that I supervise. I am greeted by a list of patients from the Child Life Specialist that are on my floor for the day. I use that list to visit each of the rooms; I ask them to come visit me during the hours that I open the room for and I tell them about all the activities there are, hoping that they will want to come down! If a patient cannot make it to the room I always ask if I can bring anything to them, whether it be a movie to watch in their rooms or a few markers and paper. After I make my rounds to each room I will make my way back towards the playroom and will set up for the afternoon. On the main table I spread out different types of arts and crafts. There’s everything from sand art to paints to bracelet making, but the all time favorite arts and crafts project in our playroom is for sure the fuse beads! For those of you who don’t know what fuse beads are, they are templates that are in a certain shape with little spikes where you can place different colored beads to and, once you lay out the pattern, you want you “fuse” the beads together by ironing them. I have done every shape and pattern that we have in templates and every kid that comes by absolutely loves the fuse beads. Fuse beads have been a very calming and time-consuming activity that I’ve noticed helps some of the kids really get out of their heads about whatever their current situation might be. 


Fuse beads aren’t the only activity to do in the playroom! We have everything from monopoly to play kitchens to Xboxes for every age to come and enjoy and really just have a safe space to remind them that they can still be kids! I have had so many amazing conversations with different families where they have openly shared their stories with me and shown me how grateful they are to Rady Children’s for amazing care for their kids. I cannot fully gauge what it means to be in their positions as parents to have a sick child, but through their words they have shown me the utmost representations of what it means to be brave for their families. Courage truly takes a new form in the kids who I get to play with every Tuesday afternoon and although the families always thank me when they leave for letting their children play with dolls or doing a round of Jenga with me, it is honestly me who is more thankful for their time. I have learned so much in the two years that I have been volunteering at Rady Children’s Hospital than I imagined I ever could.


It is an incredible blessing to be able to wake up every day and be happy and healthy, it is something that I have taken for granted so long. Volunteering at this hospital has definitely given me more clarity in what it is that I want to do with my life, but if anything it has given me more perspective of what it means to put others before yourself. Over 70% of the funds raised by Dance Marathon at SDSU go to patient services, including the child life specialists I work under at the Hospital and toys that fill the playroom. All of these little things that make kids’ hospital stays less scary are funded by the generosity of donors and the power of philanthropy.


- Serena Shaar, Participant Relations Team 2020-2021

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