The cobblestones paths are replaced by squeaky tile floors. In the place of fairy godmothers stood nurses and doctors clad in scrubs. Volunteers scurried to offer smiles to patients, like animal companions to their princesses. Behind the magic was science and medicine. To sophomore Lauren Graham, the walls of Cook Children’s Medical Center were alike to those of a castle.

Graham was named the Junior Volunteer of the Year by Cook Children’s on Tuesday, Jan. 22. She began volunteering at the Cook Children’s Medical Center, located in downtown Fort Worth, through their junior volunteer summer program during the summer of 2018. Within her first summer, Graham garnered a total of 110 volunteer hours.

“I was literally mind blown…because it’s my first year and…there are seniors and stuff who have been there for four years,” Graham said. “I was literally so shocked, I thought there was no way. I was thinking I’ll work towards [it] and try to be the best volunteer I can, so I can get it like later, but I never thought that I would get it this year.”

As a volunteer, Graham mainly works at the front desk and helps direct the flow of traffic around the hospital, offering assistance in any way she can. When she has time, Graham enjoys assisting in patient care and cheering up the children being treated.

“One time I got to babysit this young boy. I got to sit there and play with him, it was just so fun. I’m really excited, because next year I’ll probably get to work in the NICU,” Graham said. “When I got to go help kids, I’m going to spend time with them so their parents can eat dinner or eat lunch or anything like that.”

Aside from her roles in the hospital, Graham was also in charge of creating a video honoring the seniors in the program. This video is usually played during an end-of-summer celebration to send the seniors off to college. Therefore, when the hospital staff discovered through her interview that Graham had photography experience from her years on the yearbook staff and won the Walsworth Junior Photography Competition, they knew she was up for the task.

“When you’re a junior volunteer, it’s all through high school, so they have a dinner for people who have been here for four years [and] are seniors going to college,” Graham said. “I did video interviews with everybody. That took a lot of time [because] I had to come in while they were volunteering, so I spent [about] 110 hours at Cook Children’s over the summer.”

Graham first discovered the junior volunteer summer program through her mother, who works at Cook Children’s as a orthopedic prosthetist and makes prosthetics for children. According to the Cook Children’s program requirements, junior volunteers must be able to work one shift once a week for the entire nine-week period. To become a junior volunteer, one must be between 15-18 years of age and go through the entire application process, which includes an interview.

“You have to go through this whole process. [About] 400 people applied and they only take like 80. I went down to the hospital and did an interview with someone. Then, they let you know if you got in or not,” said Graham. “You get to pick which position you’d like to be in and your time slots for the week. There’s lots of different areas that you can go into as a volunteer, so, because it was my first year, I worked at the front desk.”

After Graham was accepted into the program and began her duties as a junior volunteer, she instantly loved her work at the hospital. Although Graham wants a career in law or journalism, she wants to continue volunteering and assisting in hospitals.

“I just really wanted to make small impacts because I know when people come to the hospital, it’s not necessarily a good thing,” said Graham. “I enjoy the hospital quite a lot and [the staff members] work really hard there to make it feel almost like a castle or something. You walk in there and it’s magical.”

Despite it being only her first year as a junior volunteer, Graham was named the Junior Volunteer of the Year among all of the Cook Children’s programs in North Texas. This award was based off of staff nominations as well as hours that the recipient contributed.

“You have to get nominated by the people who work there, which was really nice because I’ve made like really deep connections with my volunteer supervisors. It’s unbiased and they get to look at the recommendations, and the staff picks somebody who they think got the strongest recommendations,” said Graham. “I get a plaque…that goes in the atrium at Cook Children’s.”

Despite being in many extracurricular activities such as yearbook, Talon, Falcon Friends, and more, Graham dedicates time to help her community in any way possible. Graham looks up to retired couples who volunteer alongside her, and wishes do the same as an adult. She plans to continue being a junior volunteer for the rest of her time in high school and is working towards her green cord.

“People are coming there because their children are sick, so anything you can do, [such as] helping them finding their way because it’s huge and confusing, to brighten their day is great,” said Graham. “Making an impact in any way is just magical.”

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