Candy Striper Emma Barron and Westview Place resident Phil Clark share a laugh during a break in their reading session. Mark Brett/Western News

Candy Stripers bring a smile

Dressed in the traditional red and white colours, local candy stripers still play a very important role in the gentle care of hospital patients, especially those in extended care (ECU).

“I started volunteering here (Penticton Regional Hospital) three years ago after hearing about it from a friend who was volunteering,” said 18-year-old Annick Cole, a Grade 12 student at Penticton Secondary. “It’s especially fun going down to the ECU (Westview Place) helping and seeing the people that live there because quite a few of them don’t have families.

“Just having time to talk with them, reading or playing games. Some are really outgoing and they love to joke with you. We almost get to act as grandkids for awhile.”

James Naude who also volunteers with the weekly program agreed.

“I really like the ECU because when we go there they sort of smile and are a little happier — so just being a bright spot in their day is really nice,” said Naude.

Candy stripers began in East Orange, N.J. in 1944 as a high school civics class project. The uniforms were sewn by the girls in the class from red and white striped fabric known as candy stripe.

While many other chapters of the youth volunteer group have since given up the original uniform pattern, Carole Patané, the PRH volunteer co-ordinator who oversees the group, decided to leave it up to her young volunteers.

“It was their decision to keep the traditional pinafores. Judging from the reaction of residents, it’s really great,” said Patané. “I think it is such a great opportunity for young people.”

Olivia Tom, 17, has been a candy striper for two years.

“Sometimes when they see us the people say: ‘Oh candy stripers, they’re still around,’” she said. “I kind of went into it blindly but people are always really happy to see us and chit chat a little.”

Currently there are about 46 youth volunteers working out of PRH and another nine in Summerland.

Both chapters began around 1964.

“I love the program, I really do and halfway through the summer it already fills up for September,” said Patané.

To earn their stripes, the youth members must be between 13 and 18 years old, in high school, willing to commit to one and a half hours each week and take part in an information and training session.

Two of the more popular reasons for joining the candy stripers for some participants were the exposure to the medical community and it being youth-oriented.

“I thought it would be cool to gain some experience of working in a hospital because that’s sort of going into the health care field,” said Naude, whose parents are both doctors. “It’s not like the TV shows where it’s super exciting all the time but it’s still really cool watching the teams working together and making the place run.”

Cole also has medical aspirations.

“I think it’s a good way to immerse yourself in the hospital environment,” said Cole. “Also it was one of the only ways I could volunteer on a regular basis as a kid in Penticton.”

“For me candy striping is great because it’s dedicated towards youth,”added Keara Anutooshkin “You can meet new people your age, it’s something that’s specifically designed for youth.”

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