Sophia Thomas, 18, of South Burlington, Vt., a senior at South Burlington High School, helps brighten the days of children at the University of Vermont Medical Center through her volunteer work in the hospital’s pediatric unit. Sophia has felt a connection with the hospital for many years. Growing up, she was a frequent visitor there to see counselors, and her mother was successfully treated there for breast cancer. “Walking into the hospital as a young kid was daunting, but I always knew there were people there to help me,” said Sophia. “When I heard about the volunteer program, I knew that it would make a fantastic catalyst for which to show my gratitude.” After waiting impatiently for her 17th birthday – the minimum age to volunteer there – Sophia completed the hospital’s training regimen in late 2017 and began assisting in the pediatric unit for three hours every Wednesday.
First, Sophia visits patients in their rooms, entertaining them with movies, games, books, art projects or just conversation. Sometimes she just sits with them so their parents can grab a meal or go to the restroom. “Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t, but there’s a shared sense of trust that flows between us,” she said. After her room visits, Sophia heads to the playroom, where she cleans hard surfaces, washes dirty toys and wipes down wagons, and then hangs out with the kids there, building with Legos, drawing pictures or jumping in a ball pit. “Not only do I love spending time with the patients, but I also feel I can relate to them because I understand what it’s like to be a kid in a hospital,” said Sophia.