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Volunteer Spotlight: Vanderbilt University

February 16, 2017

Vanderbilt University students Marisa Kataoka and Ritika Jain were looking to find a way to give back in their local community while exploring their passions for health care and children. The women did some research and discovered Project Sunshine. They worked together with the Project Sunshine national office to set up the club, and began recruiting volunteers who shared their passion for bringing joy to hospitalized children.

For Ritika, the desire to volunteer with pediatric patients stemmed from her own experience in the hospital as a child. She remembers interacting with volunteers during her stay, saying that they, "always made me feel so much better, more normal and in that moment, I would forget that I was in the hospital". She knew that through Project Sunshine she would be able to, "bring that same sense of relief and happiness to kids going through similar experiences".

Founding a new student club on campus was, at times, challenging. "During our first interest meeting in the spring of 2015, we had three students attend the meeting," says Marisa of the process of growing a new student club. "This past semester (Fall 2016), we had over 150 interested students". The growth of the club is truly a testament to their hard work recruiting and spreading awareness on campus, and the relationship that they have built with the staff at the hospital. Now, rather than struggling to fill volunteer slots, the chapter is creative with their offerings to ensure that all members are able to contribute.

The chapter makes three trips to the hospital each week, bringing Creative Arts and Crafts as well as games. They have also been asked to support special events at the hospital throughout the semester, including a dog show and game nights. In order to ensure every member has a meaningful experience, they host weekly meetings on campus where students can make crafts which are later delivered to the children in the hospital. To round out an already full schedule, the Vanderbilt Project Sunshine Chapter also hosts fundraisers and additional Sending Sunshine events.

While Marisa and Ritika generously donate their time to Project Sunshine, they also feel like they have equally gained from the experiences. According to Ritika, "Project Sunshine has opened so many new opportunities for me and has helped me grow immensely as a leader."

More Volunteer Stories of Interest

Sports Illustrated model, Damaris Lewis, volunteered for her second year as a Project Sunshine Dance Camp instructor to empower young women through dance.
Emilio Delgado, who has played Luis on Sesame Street for 40 years, brought sunshine to pediatric patients at Mount Sinai´s KidZone as part of Project Sunshine´s Book Club

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