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Kaweah Delta Junior Volunteer Program

Dec 28, 2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

The Future of Healthcare

January 2019
Story by Jordan Venema 
Photos Courtesy of Kaweah Delta

LINDI FUNSTON DESCRIBES it as the road from high school to health care, and certainly the Kaweah Delta Junior Volunteer Program is paving the way for students to excel in a challenging and multifaceted field.

As the manager of volunteer and human resource services, Funston has seen many kids come through the program since its prototype first launched in 2015, and soon she expects former students could make their way back as employees at Kaweah Delta.

“It originally started out with all the high schools in Visalia Unified School District, and we wanted to do it because we were spending about half a million dollars a year advertising for health care personnel outside of the Visalia area,” says Funston. “We thought maybe we need to start growing our kids in high school to interest them in a career in health care.”

Since the program is young and Kaweah Delta doesn’t hire employees younger than 18, none of the program’s students has yet to be hired by the hospital, but Funston expects that to change soon.  

“We’re just now seeing those kids going to College of the Sequoias and into the two-year nursing program there,” she says. “So I’m just now starting to see it.”

Funston herself joined Kaweah Delta staff in in 2015 as a 90-day assignment as a consultant, but when the new vice president of human resources asked if she would develop a junior and young adult volunteer program, she decided to stay.

“Long story short, it sounded like something that would be kind of fun,” says Funston.  

The original program, called the Medical Apprentice Program, was designed for students age 15 to 18 who were interested in learning about various health care fields. She described the program as “an intensive one-week learning opportunity that gave them the chance to interact with and meet staff and get the chance to experience what happens in a hospital.”

It wasn’t your typical candy stripers program, but rather a full immersion into the many different trades within a hospital, beyond the positions of doctor or nurse.

“When you ask a student what they want to be,” continues Funston, “they usually say a doctor or nurse, right? But there are 160 other job categories within the hospital, and what I wanted to do was expose the youth to these other opportunities that would keep them here in town, or if they went off to school, they would at least consider coming back.” 

By the summer of 2016, the initial success of the Medical Apprentice Program evolved into what is now called the Junior Volunteer Program, a summer and spring program in which students must complete 100 hours of service in various roles at Kaweah Delta Hospital, such as environmental services, housekeeping, transportation, medical records, marketing and human resources.

While the Junior Volunteer Program initially accepted students throughout high schools within the district, its success forced Funston to narrow the program to students enrolled in the Linked Learning Academies, career-focused programs associated with the high schools that offer education and experience to students in specific careers like photography, health sciences, agriculture, computer sciences and sports therapy.  

Through these academies, says Funston, “these kids are getting out of high school knowing more than a lot of college graduates.” In addition, thanks to their experience in the academies and the Junior Volunteer Program, “now they can make an informed decision going off to college as to what they might want to do, instead of wasting a year and changing your major four times.” 

Ultimately, says Funston, the academy provides students who want to pursue a career in health care the opportunity to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or Medical Assistant, while completing 100 hours toward the 200 hours required by the two-year nursing program at College of the Sequoias. The Junior Volunteer Program is potentially transforming the future of health care in Visalia first by transforming its students.

According to Funston, students who participate in the program have grown close to patients, enough that she recounts one story of a student who was leaving for vacation. 

“She told me, ‘I can’t wait to get back to my patients because they don’t have anybody to talk to but me,’” Funston says. 

With the Junior Volunteer Program encouraging others like her to build relationships within the hospital while exploring potential careers within health care, then the future of Visalia’s health appears to be in good hands.  •