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Young volunteers bring smiles at Partners in Learning

SALISBURY — During summer months, the classrooms at Partners in Learning echo with the sound of laughter and song as volunteers make the brightly colored halls their home.

The 13- through 16-year-old students have chosen to spend their summers volunteering in a variety of medical and child care facilities affiliated with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Novant Health calls them “Junior Volunteers.” Emilie Scarf, the site director at Partners in Learning at Novant, calls them a blessing.

While Partners in Learning is an independent organization, the Best Street site was once a child care center operated by the local hospital, Scharf said. The facility was one of the stops for the hospital’s Junior Volunteers. When Partners in Learning moved in, Novant offered to continue the program.

“So we’ve just kind of shared volunteers,” Scharf said.

As part of the arrangement, Novant also sends volunteers to the Partners in Learning site at Catawba College.

This summer, the Best Street site has 11 volunteers who work a four-hour shift at Partners in Learning. The students also spend days helping out in hospital units. At Partners in Learning, volunteers spend time in the classrooms helping teachers.

“A lot of it is interacting and engaging with the children,” Scharf said.

Volunteers may play with kids, read them a book, help them wash their hands or help dish out lunch and snacks. Some volunteers even find themselves employed by Partners in Learning if they hit it off well.

“So it kind of works twofold for us,” Scharf said.

Brianne Snider is one such student. Snider started volunteering with the hospital when she was 13, the summer before her freshman year of high school.

“I wanted to do something that felt like it was making a difference,” she said.

While she enjoyed her work at the hospital, Snider said she felt drawn to the child development center. When Partners in Learning took it over, she kept coming back. And then she was offered a full-time job.

“I was very shocked,” Snider said. “… I was about to turn 18 and didn’t think anyone my age could get a job, especially without a degree.”

Scharf said she and other administrators saw how much Snider cared for the children at the center and how passionate she was about the work. Snider is now a full-time student at Gardner-Webb University, but she returns to Partners in Learning each summer to work.

“It’s really helped me grow up,” she said. “There’s a lot I’ve realized here.”

For other volunteers, it’s a sneak peak at possible futures. Lesley Simpkins, 16, is trying to decide between the medical field or becoming a teacher. Being a junior volunteer with Novant Health gives her the opportunity to scope out both careers.

It’s also not a bad way to spend the summer.

“It’s extremely fun,” she said. “… I love it.”

It’s a benefit administrators see, as well.

“It helps us, but it gives (these kids) experience,” Scharf said.

The students have regular hours and must clock in and out, just like they would in the workforce.

“So it’s giving them a first look at what it might be like to have employment.”

Novant’s Junior Volunteers program operates during the summer. For more information, contact Novant Health Rowan Medical Center at 704-210-5000.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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