SCommunity Service: Volunteering at LA County Hospital

Rhea Choudhury Free Time, Involvement, Rhea, Service, Social & Diversity, Students, Viterbi Life Leave a Comment

Hey guys!

This semester is going by so quickly, I can’t believe it’s already November! The holiday season is probably my favorite time of the year, but it feels like just yesterday it was August, and now, here I am, jamming out to Christmas music and planning out my finals schedule.

I’ve spent a lot of the last few posts talking about my life off campus, from my favorite concert venues (check that out here!) to my friends to my spontaneous weekend roadtrip to Death Valley. While my blogs on here and instagram may make my life look super adventurous and exciting, there’s definitely a ton more going on in my life on campus. Last year, a few friends and I actually began the process of starting our own volunteer organization, sending volunteers to the Violence Intervention Program at LA County + USC Hospital to work with disadvantaged members of the community, and finally, after over a year of administrative struggles, we’ve finally began volunteering!! I mentioned this org briefly in another post recently, but I wanted to dedicate a full post to the Violence Intervention Program because it truly is an incredible project that not a ton of students know about.

Going to school at USC, we’re fortunate enough to live in a really cool city like LA. However, with the kind of sporadic growth and urban sprawl associated with Los Angeles, there’s inevitably a ton of wealth disparity and socioeconomic inequity across the board. In terms of healthcare, a significant proportion of LA’s population is uninsured, resulting in an overflow to the emergency room and an overflowing foster care system. Children are bounced from home to home, incidents of child abuse and sexual assault are not uncommon, and many parents cannot afford to send their children to a regular doctor for things like mental illnesses or FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, can manifest with similar symptoms to autism). Before about 1990, all these cases were shuttled to the emergency room, already packed to the brim with patients needing immediate medical attention following accidents, heart attacks, strokes and severe trauma. As a result, foster children, pediatric victims of abuse, and kids experiencing mild to severe mental illnesses were given minimal attention and care at LA County Hospital. However, Dr. Astrid Heger, a pediatric surgeon at the time, saw the flaws in the pediatric care workflow, and decided to take both administrative and medical actions.

One of the kids with a Halloween craft!

She founded the Violence Intervention Program at Keck, one of the only centers in the country that is dedicated to serving disadvantaged communities 24/7. Initially, the center targeted pediatric victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, but with persistent fundraising and an incredible drive to spark change in what she thought was a flawed system, she was able to expand the center to treat patients of all ages, including elder abuse victims. VIP is in charge of administering rape kits to all victims of sexual assault that enter LA County, provide clothing and grocery cards to families that need a fresh start, and run a full service Mental Health center for kids. Needless to say, it’s an amazing place that has really impacted the community in a positive way.

I met Dr. Heger last November, in a class for my Healthcare Studies minor. The class consisted of a ton of guest speakers that came in and spoke about what they did; the majority were doctors and talked about their specialty and their path to medical school. Dr. Heger was different though– she just sat down on a table in front of the room, and spoke from her heart about her experiences literally revolutionizing the field of pediatric emergency care, and I teared up by the end of her talk. I knew I had to somehow get involved, and I got together with a few other students who felt equally moved by her work to make something happen.

Fast forward a year, and here I am, volunteering weekly at Dr. Heger’s center! Our organization, officially recognized by USC, is called the Violence Intervention Volunteers, and we send students to volunteer at the Mental Health Activities center (hanging out with kids pretty much) and other students to shadow at the clinic. It’s been insane navigating the county clearance process for medical volunteers, and has been a wild ride with Dr. Heger and my fellow E-board members, but we’re so so glad to be helping out with such an amazing cause. Personally, I love volunteering with children because they’re so open-minded, trusting and carefree. Despite coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, these kids are so happy, creative, kind and fun-loving, and working with them is a highlight during my week. Dr Heger warned us about commitments in the beginning of our journey; she emphasized that for some of these kids, we were the most consistent adult figure in their lives. How powerful is that? It’s not something to be taken lightly, and I am so grateful for the chance to positively impact these kids’ lives, and hopefully inspire them to go out and impact the community in their own ways.

While I’ve had an amazing time creating my own organization and working with the medical community, there’s tons of other amazing community service organizations on campus that people choose to involve themselves in, and I would highly encourage anyone and everyone to join some kind of service org!! There’s something so rewarding about giving back to the community, whether that’s through tutoring, pro-bono consulting, mentoring, coaching, building homes or working in a food kitchen. Service allows you to learn from communities that differ from you, and that’s something that I think everyone should experience over the course of their college career. Those kinds of situations are the ones where you truly grow the most, I know I have.

That’s all I have for this post, hope it wasn’t toooo long and rambly!!
Peace out and fight on,
Rhea

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