19 Feb COVID CAN’T STOP GOOD: A reflection from StudentsCare Buddy, Mariela Villarreal
Mariela Villarreal is a StudentsCare Buddy and Vice President of the StudentsCare chapter at University of Texas. She began her StudentsCare journey in 2018 as a Hospital Buddy at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin. We asked Mariela to reflect on her StudentsCare experience and how things have changed since the pandemic…
” The pandemic has changed so much about how we do everything, and StudentsCare was not exempt from these changes. In the early days of the pandemic, our volunteering efforts were put on stand-by. We were unable to go to the hospitals and had no way to continue supporting our buddies. Being able to adapt to the changes that the pandemic caused was essential, and StudentsCare has done it. I can’t believe how quickly we had our senior buddy rolled out, but I’m grateful. It’s too easy in this COVID-19 era to feel down about our new situation. Until I became involved in the senior buddy program, I was missing volunteering in the hospital tremendously. I would often find myself thinking “I have my shift tomorrow,” before remembering that I was no longer able to go. When I first called my senior buddy, I remember feeling so happy to be back in the swing of things.
The senior buddy program is another opportunity for our volunteers to create beautiful memories and help more people. The seniors in these facilities were unable to have contact with their loved ones and were feeling incredibly isolated. With our program, they now have someone checking in on them, talking to them, and keeping them company (even if it is just virtually). My buddy confided in me that just knowing that someone is calling to check on her and talk to her about her day helps to ease her worries. She always ends our calls by saying “thank you so much for thinking of me; you never forget.” She was absolutely thrilled to receive her Comfort Kit over the holidays. She even wanted to frame the picture of me that I sent her.
Being able to provide care for a different population has been incredibly rewarding. However, StudentsCare was created with the idea of providing support to children, which so many of our volunteers, myself included, were missing. Now, we have managed to set up a virtual hospital buddy program. My virtual buddy, my fellow volunteer, and I have managed to recreate the feel of the in-person visit over Google Meets. We talk and play games and are all so happy. I forget that we’re online.
I am so unbelievably grateful to StudentsCare for being so amazing and helping all of us volunteers get back to doing what we love. Although the way that we are now volunteering doesn’t look the same as before, it feels the same, maybe even better. “