Giving kids the world: Pharmacy students learn life and career lessons from volunteering to serve terminally ill children

give1Above: A group of faculty and student from FDU's School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences spent a few days during the fall semester volunteering at Give Kids the World, a Florida vacation spot for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. (Photos courtesy of Chadwin Sandifer)

By Dan Landau

For the fourth year in a row, students and faculty in the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences recently volunteered at the Give Kids the World Village (GKTW), a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Fla., for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

This latest trip, led by Chadwin Sandifer, assistant dean for student affairs and programmatic effectiveness, and partially sponsored by Walgreens, included 10 students along with Nicole East, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, and Julia Georgiana, student affairs counselor. They spent five days in October 2016 working at the resort, doing everything from serving food to manning rides and game booths, all the while, learning valuable skills for the future.

Part of the Service Learning: Pediatric Population course, the service trip is designed to help pharmacy students develop the communication and empathic competencies they will need in their careers as members of a healthcare team.

Students share their reflections on the experience:
 

The Place

Kendra Volz

“Give Kids the World is its very own universe. Prior to embarking on this magical journey, I didn’t know how remarkable this ‘Village universe’ really was. As we approached the village for the first time, I saw a large span of bright buildings lining the road. I started to think back to my childhood and how special it was to be gifted with anything colorful, let alone a house to stay in. After a short tour of the village, I couldn't help but look around in complete awe. Everything you could imagine was tailored to the children. From the small rocking chairs that sat outside facing the castle, to the small tables and chairs in the kitchen.”

Brianna Leahy

“You can tell what a beautiful and magical place [GKTW] is by watching the families interact with each other. It is not about the child's condition or doctors’ appointments. It is about showing love for one another and enjoying the presence of the people closest to you.” 

Jazzmine Paz

“I got the sense that this place was built for happy moments and happier memories.”

give3Above (left - right): Jazzmine Paz, Rishi Singh, Christina Persiano, Shefkate Bakiu, Galina Abayeva, and Julia Georgiana in front of the Park of Dreams and Brooks’ Surf Shack. The Park of Dreams features an interactive water garden and wheelchair-accessible pool where children of all abilities can experience flowing, jetting and misting water fun. This is also home to Serendipity, an 80-footlong ship complete with a ship stage for many of the nightly entertainment shows.

 

The Experience

Waqas Ibrar

On the fourth day, I was working in Amberville — an arcade — and I played air hockey with an Indian child whose mom did not speak English, so I was able to interact with her in Hindi and make sure her child was having fun.

Later, two Arabic-speaking children also came in and played pool and basketball. They did not speak English very well and their mom only spoke Arabic, so I was able to communicate with them in Arabic and tell them a little bit about the village. Just having a simple conversation and offering to translate for them, made me feel like I had accomplished a task a little different than the rest of the volunteers. Knowing that I have a skill or talent I can use for the good or to help someone is extremely rewarding.

Kourtnei-Rae Gondeck

Throughout our day at the pool, we tended to about five families. It was a very reflective, eye-opening morning because at this point I was able to see a lot of the scars and tubes that the employees had warned us about when coming in contact with the children.

When a family of five was leaving the pool, the mother made a comment about her youngest son. He was the wish child and was approximately 3-years-old, confidently strutting his stuff in nautical swim trunks and a chest full of scars from past surgeries. He suffered from an inoperable tumor and was only alive because of certain medications available to him. Although this was truly heartbreaking, I felt a moment of peace alongside of her, because she was so grateful for the moments she was able to spend with her son.

Jazzmine Paz

On day four, my morning shift was in the Castle of Miracles. I loved working at the Castle because it was such a magical place. My favorite part of working there was playing make-believe for the children. For instance, I often had to pretend to talk to Stellar, a fairy that places a wish child's star in The Star Tower. I had to speak with an enthusiastic tone that got the child excited that Stellar was "interacting" with us.

give2Above: The giant mixing bowl statue inside the entrance to the kitchen and dining area inside Towne Halll a 53,000 square-foot, two-story building covered in chocolate kisses, swirly lollipops, and colorful gumdrops. Kneeling in the front row are students Christina Persiano, Tiffany Taylor, and Jazzmine Paz. In the back row are faculty Chadwin Sandifer and Nicole East.

 

The Lessons Learned

Galina Abayeva

The five days at GKTW reminded me how lucky we all are to be alive and healthy, and how we sometimes forget to stop for a minute and just be happy and appreciate all the amazing and great things we have in life. Working at GKTW taught me what a great place the world can be and what potential it has if people think and act more positively. It taught me not to be afraid to make mistakes and that not every little failure is the end of the world. It taught me to open up and get out of my comfort zone and get to know more people.

Professionally, I learned that there is so much more to the field of pharmacy than just counting pills. Growing patient relationships is what matters most.

Jazzmine Paz

I felt a sense of teamwork with my classmates. I saw us helping one another out whenever one of us was encountering some difficulty. It reminded me of the healthcare team a pharmacist is a part of while in practice. In a community pharmacy, the pharmacist is not only working with her pharmacy technicians, but also with the whole community to better facilitate effective healthcare delivery.

Christina Persiano

One time or another, we all discredit someone before really getting to know them, whether for being different, because our best friend didn't like them, or because they aren't part of the so-called “in crowd.” This trip made me look past differences and it made me look at people for who they are.

I feel like this experience has woken me up, given me back positive energy, helped me become animated again and definitely put a little magic back into my life.

Shefkate Bakiu

The whole purpose of this trip was to take me out of my comfort zone, which it did. I broke out of my shy shell and it started to become easier to just talk to strangers.

Rishi Singh

This trip has opened my eyes and shown me that all it takes is one person to have a domino-effect on a group, which then leads to another domino-effect.

Brianna Leahy

I remember one morning I saw kids running around and laughing. It was only 8 a.m. and I was still yawning, but their energy and excitement was a better wake-up call than my cup of coffee. It was almost as if I was revitalized because their energy completely turned my slow, sleepy mood around. Once I saw them, I was back to my positive attitude, ready to take on the day. I want to keep this memory close, because I could use a little pick-me-up on certain mornings. There are times I feel as if I am too tired to do anything, but this experience has proved to me that I can still accomplish so much even when I am sleepy. It also taught me that life is too short to waste my mornings allowing my sleepiness to consume me. Moving forward, I am going to try my best to give things my all, regardless of what time of day it may be.

 

Editor's Note: For more information, see the accounts of the 20152014, and 2013 trips.