Teen volunteers ghostwrite life tales - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Teen volunteers ghostwrite life tales

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 4:30 pm

Hospital patients enduring extended bedside stays often complain about feelings of loneliness, isolation and the impersonal nature that the generally sterile environment provides.

Often, when family and friends aren’t able to take time out of their busy days to visit, all these patients desire is for someone to talk with them about life outside the hospital – current events, sports, the arts, religion or politics, and even family and friends.

For some teen volunteers at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West, they’re discovering more about many patients’ backgrounds – and themselves in the process – during one-on-one interviews through a program called Life Stories.

Started in January, the program offers two volunteers — this summer it’s 18-year-old Zack Welch and 15-year-old Lauren Harrell — a chance to get to know patients of all ages by asking questions relating to life as a child, interesting vacations, their jobs and careers, and dating and marriage.

The last question is always, “What do you like most about life,” and Welch and Harrell say they receive different answers, although it typically relates back to love and family in some manner.

“They’ll say ‘life’ is their most favorite thing about life,” said Harrell, who lives in Surprise.

Added Welch, “The recurring theme in our interviews is to ‘not sweat the small stuff’ and to enjoy life and all its experiences.”

Welch and Harrell have discovered many patients have some pretty interesting backgrounds and stories to tell. One patient once met a celebrity, while others are self-made millionaires, as well as former child actors and military personnel.

Still, the volunteers say the most interesting stories don’t always come from those who’ve met celebrities or had their own 15 minutes of fame, but the patients who can vividly recall the lifetime of memories in a fulfilling job, serving the community and meeting their true love.

“Once you hit a chord, they really start talking,” Harrell said. “It’s no longer an interview to them. It becomes a conversation about life in which you get to know them more as a person.”

Hospital officials say the Life Stories program not only provides the teen volunteers with something to do during their shifts, but also gives patients a time to reflect on their lives and relate those interesting factoids and advice to boys and girls 50 to 60 years younger.

In addition, interview answers, which are typed up by the volunteers and framed as a keepsake for patients after they’re discharged, also provide doctors and nurses, who don’t always have time to sit and chat, an opportunity to get to know their patients on a more personal level.

“The program definitely gives patients a deeper connection to the hospital and promotes healing,” said Jennifer Lloyd, a registered nurse at Webb.

“Anytime you can talk about the positives of life, it has healing properties.”

Lloyd says “it’s always interesting learning more about someone” and that patients “light up” and enjoy talking about their lives through the Life Stories program.

“Most of our patients are naturally outgoing, so it’s a joy for them to have this opportunity to share their life story,” she said. “It makes them feel worthy and special.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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