CLINTON — The Candystripers have gone co-ed — at least at Mercy Medical Center.

A volunteer job once considered a calling for young women is now attracting teens from both genders and of all ages.

There currently are 40 students from many area schools participating in the Mercy Jr. Volunteer Program. They come from as far away as DeWitt, Camanche, Northeast and Fulton, Ill., and students from Clinton High, Washington Middle and Prince of Peace schools volunteer.

CHS student Justin Nylin has been volunteering for three years and has tabulated the awesome sum of 450 volunteer hours. He says he has made a lot of friends through the program and he likes helping the staff.

“The staff is very appreciative and enjoy seeing teenagers and enjoy the extra help,” Justin related. “So many of them don’t have the time.”

The students donate their time to the residents of Bluff Terrace and Wyndcrest senior care facilities, the Mercy Daycare Center and the patients at the hospital. According to Jeanne McKenzie, volunteer coordinator, the students rotate their time between the four facilities.

Currently the Summer Program is in progress. The teens can volunteer anywhere from two to 15 hours a week — creating their own summer program schedule.

Alex Juist is from Fulton, and is serving his second year as a Jr. Volunteer. He is following in his sister Sarah’s footsteps. She served as a volunteer for six years and is a senior in high school this year.

Alex says he takes ice water around to the rooms, delivers meal trays and newspapers, cleans refrigerators and makes folders for the doctors to use.

McKenzie says all of her volunteers have to go through a training program. They have to learn wheelchair safety, how to deliver meal trays and be aware of the different dietary needs of the patients.

Because of federal regulations governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, all student volunteers have to take a mandatory test. Carly Green has only been on the job a week.

She had to take the information home to study. She said it felt like doing homework.

Several of the students volunteer because they would like to pursue a career in medicine.

Veronica Ashmore, a junior at CHS, uses her volunteer experience to help take of her grandfather.

“I wanted to be a volunteer because I wanted to be more involved with him,” she explained.

Her stepmother provides in-home care and Veronica helps by giving him his shots.

Emma Rannfeldt, of Camanche, had spent only one day on the job and wasn’t sure what to expect. Her dad and brother are both volunteer firefighters.

McKenzie said a lot of her former volunteers like to came back during the college breaks and help out. The older students like to help at community events such as manning the booth at Riverboat Days and volunteering at the Halloween House of Wonders and blood drives.

Everyone benefits from the volunteer program — the students, Mercy Medical Center staff and especially the residents and patients they serve.

The summer program started June 12 but there is still time for kids looking for a volunteer opportunity to get involved.

“We are offer great opportunities for students in our community to create some wonderful summertime memories for themselves, as well as devoting some rewarding and valuable time interacting with the residents at Bluff Terrace, Wyndcrest, the children at the Mercy Daycare Center and patients at the hospital,” McKenzie said. “We also have many volunteers assisting in the hospital each afternoon.”

Any student age 12 or older who might be interested can contact McKenzie at 244-3525.

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