As a “volunteen” at Chandler Regional Medical Center each of the past three summers, Lindsey Chew noticed many patients or family members often sitting alone in the hospital. She would strike up a conversation but soon determined that wasn’t enough.
So Chew, a senior at Hamilton High School, started Operation Origami, with the mission to fold luck origami cranes and present them to patients or their family in person and offer to pray with them.
Chew’s inspiration for her movement came from the book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” in which Hiroshima-born Sadako becomes gravely ill with leukemia — the “atom bomb disease” — and recalls the Japanese legend that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the Gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.
“When I read that book it made a real impression on me,” Chew said. “I share that story with people when I give them a crane. It’s a good way to start a conversation with someone.”
To personalize the cranes, Chew, who plays the piano, folds them out of sheet music. Chew, who also volunteers during the school year and will be back for a fourth summer at the hospital in a couple months, estimated she’s folded 12,000 origami cranes.
She carries them in a paper bag from Chipotle, which is another conversation starter since people often think she is bringing them food.
“There is a certain amount of anxiety in a hospital waiting room and Lindsey recognized that, and developed a way to help people through that anxiety,” said Tara Blanchard, senior coordinator for volunteer services at the Dignity Health CRMC. “She is always energetic and always with a smile. She has left her mark her.”
For her work, Chew recently was given the annual Violet Richardson Award from Soroptimist International of the San Tans. The award, named after the president of the first Soroptimist club, honors girls who are making a difference through volunteer service.
SI of the San Tans is a nonprofit organization of business and professional women working to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world.
“We are very, very honored to have learned about Lindsey and her selfless act of compassion and understanding for those who find themselves in the sterile, clinical environment of a hospital and sharing a small treasure to brighten their day,” said Judith Register, SIST president. “As a club of professional and business women who are passionate about giving back to the community, we are thrilled when we find a young woman who is passing forward that same commitment to service that we are.”
Chew, 17, also was awarded the Dignity Health Core Values award for stewardship last year.
Since the summer of 2011, Chew has volunteered 171 hours at CRMC, in addition to hours she spends volunteering elsewhere with the Hamilton Key Club, and will put in another 40-60 hours this summer.
“The cranes are a little thing — the process is really familiar to me now and allows me to express myself creatively and is cathartic for me — but can mean a lot to the people I meet,” Chew said.
“I met a truck driver who was waiting for his mother in surgery and he told me stories about all the places she’d been. I would not have met her otherwise. I meet incredible people all the time and hear their stories and it’s really enjoyable.”