Learning takes different shapes.
Sometimes we learn by listening. Sometimes by reading or doing.
When 18-year-old Kendal Lowe was a rising sophomore at Ooltewah High School a couple of years ago, her guidance counselor told her about a summer volunteering opportunity at Erlanger's children's hospital.
The hospital needed student-volunteers to help in, among other places, its mother-baby unit — people to distribute crushed ice and blankets to moms who had just given birth. The program is called VolunTEEN and Kendal has logged about 175 volunteer hours over the last two summers.
The job dovetailed with Kendal's desire to become a nurse someday. It took an abstract desire and made it real. Plus, it gave Kendal a chance to watch working nurses up close. Were they happy? Were they engaged by their work? Would they recommend the job?
"Just being able to experience what was going on in those [hospital] rooms was great," she says. "It was a really loving environment, and calm.
"... Most of the [nurses] seem really happy because they are getting to welcome new life into the world. They get to see all these babies."
Unlike nurses who help the sick and dying, nurses in the mother-baby unit often get to be at the bedside during a time of peak family joy.
Kendal eventually graduated from passing out ice and blankets to helping new parents to the curb to drive their newborns home, one of the sweet [and scary] rituals of parenthood.
For the past two summers, Kendal has worked six-hour shifts on some days as a volunteer in the mother-baby unit. Along the way, she has overcome a few phobias by observing.
"Some of the nursing jobs are not as bad as I thought," she said, "like giving shots and changing sheets if there is blood."
The experience has made Kendal confident enough about nursing as a potential career choice that she will attend the University of North Carolina-Greensboro this fall. Eventually, she hopes to earn her way into the school's nursing program.
Meanwhile, Kendal has found a way to expand her volunteering role and meet requirements for the international baccalaureate program at her school.
When she was in sixth grade, Kendal picked up a pamphlet at a craft store that contained rudimentary instructions for blanket-making. With a little practice, she became a skilled fleece blanket-maker, and she would give them to friends and family members as Christmas gifts.
She makes the blankets in different sizes, depending on whether it's designed for an adult or a child. Some of the fleece blankets are crafted with no sewing involved, using hand-tied borders.
Recently, Kendal decided to make and donate blankets to the families of newborns at Erlanger. Besides giving her warm-fuzzy feelings, the giveaway helped her meet IB requirements for a "creativity, activity and service" project at the school.
"It's a different way of learning things," she explained of the program. "It is to help IB students to not be too focused on academics."
Emilia Jones, director of volunteer services for Erlanger Health System said: "We're not surprised that Kendal has now spent so much time and care many beautiful blankets for the young patients at Children's Hospital. That's who she is — giving and caring. We can't wait to see all of the great things Kendal does in college and beyond."
Meanwhile, Kendal counts volunteering as an invaluable part of her high school education.
"It's been a worthwhile experience," she said of her time spent at Erlanger. "I wouldn't know what field to go in if I hadn't had this experience."
To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-645-8937.