There are many benefits to volunteering while pursuing your degree. Just take it from Andy Johnson and Abby Wagle, the 2015-2016 Program Coordinators of Hawks for Health at the University of Kansas (KU). Hawks for Health connects KU students with volunteer opportunities on campus and in the Lawrence, KS community. It is just one of the programs at KU’s Center for Community Outreach (CCO).
Earlier this year, we caught up with Andy and Abby (who had been volunteering with the CCO for several years) to learn more about Hawks for Health and the value of volunteering.
USI: What inspired you to apply for the Hawks for Health coordinator positions?
Abby Wagle: I’m pre-med, so when I started volunteering, I volunteered through Hawks for Health. It’s cool because we can connect people with the healthcare community in Lawrence. So that was a big drawing factor for me.
Andy Johnson: Just like Abby, I’m pre-med too, but I wasn’t exclusively limiting myself to being a Hawks for Health coordinator. I would have been a coordinator for other programs as well, but they decided that Hawks for Health was right for me. I did it last year with a different coordinator, and I decided that I wanted to continue this year and that’s when Abby joined me.
USI: How many student volunteers are involved with Hawks for Health?
Andy Johnson: I’d say we probably have around 80 people who are involved with Hawks for Health actively, and then maybe a couple hundred who are following the program actively through our website. With this new development of the website, it allows people to be in really close contact with us; so that whenever we have a new opportunity, we’re able to just put it on the website, and then they receive an e-mail saying there’s a new event.
(Volunteering) lets you realize that there are bigger things than yourself in the world. ..You have a group of people trying for the same cause. And it brings you out of your comfort zone which I think is important too in life.
USI: Are a lot of the volunteers pre-med students like yourselves, or do they come from a variety of disciplines?
Abby Wagle: Basically anybody that follows us can volunteer with us. I would say it’s a lot of pre-health majors, like speech pathology, occupational therapy and that kind of stuff.
Andy Johnson: Generally health-related people are the ones that have interest in our program. We also have a partnership with the pre-med counselor, so we’ll send him opportunities, and then he’ll send out the opportunities to his e-mail list of pre-med people, so it’s just another way for us to cast a bigger net and bring in more people.
USI: Where are some of the places Hawks for Health have volunteered?
Andy Johnson: We went over to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and cleaned out their ambulance garage. That was a good event. We met a good guy named John Drees who works there. He does car seat checks for the community sometimes and informs people how to make sure their car seats are properly set up…We’ve had a couple bone marrow drives which we held in our campus union where did cheek swab kits and submitted people to the bone marrow registry.
Abby Wagle: Our biggest volunteer draw, I would say, is the health navigator program at Watkins Health Center (on campus). Andy and his partner started this last year. A person or two people sit at the help desk at the front of Watkins and they’re the first face that people see when they walk through the door, and they tell them where everything is, and they’re also trained to help people if they’re in trouble. That’s what a lot of people will e-mail us to ask if they can do and the spots fill up really fast for that.
Andy Johnson: That’s something we’re pretty proud of at Hawks for Health because one of the goals of the CCO is to create weekly opportunities for our volunteers so they’re not just being engaged with us once a month. It’s something they can sign up for week in and week out, and continue to be involved with it.
Abby Wagle: And it’s cool because students have never really been able to get involved in Watkins before just because of regulations and everything, so this is kind of the first volunteer event that has allowed students to be a part of Watkins.
Another time we got together with a program called GROW and we had a health fair for kids. So kids from three schools came to KU and walked through the health fair. We had a dental office donate dental supplies, we had a healthy eating zone, we had a hand-washing station that showed how to wash your hands properly…It was cool to be able to connect with another volunteer program too.
USI: Why is it important or beneficial for students to volunteer on campus or in the community?
Andy Johnson: It lets you realize that there are bigger things than yourself in the world, you know? Like there are causes that you band together and make a difference in, that you couldn’t do by yourself. So volunteering with the CCO, you’re with a group of people, you’re not limited only to what one single person can do, but instead you have a group of people trying for the same cause. And it brings you out of your comfort zone which I think is important too in life.
Abby Wagle: I think too, just getting involved wit the CCO, or any volunteer opportunity on campus, allows you to broaden your horizons. I think it connects you with other students that you wouldn’t necessarily meet if you hadn’t gotten involved with something like that. And it connects you with the community in Lawrence which is really cool because going to school here you wouldn’t necessarily know everything about the community. And it’s awesome to see when you are giving back, how appreciative people are when we do help them.
USI: Which area of medicine are you hoping to pursue?
Andy Johnson: I think radiology and ER are probably my top two right now. I volunteer in the ER at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital and I like it a lot. It’s pretty fascinating.
Abby Wagle: I want to do possibly surgery and then do plastic surgery, but specialize in hands. I had an internship with a hand surgeon in Wichita, my hometown, my sophomore-year summer, so that was really cool to see that. But I also work at a doctor’s office in Lawrence, and I’ve come to kind of think that if I don’t specialize in surgery, it’d be cool to be a general doctor because they get to see everything.
Check out the University of Kansas’ CCO Programs, including Hawks for Health, by visiting: www.cco.ku.edu