A Glimpse into HOPE Austin

By: Amy Wu
If you haven’t heard of us before, HOPE Austin stands for Health, Outreach, Promotion, and Education in Austin. We are a student-run UT organization that volunteers with health-related organizations and events around the local Austin community.
I am not a pre-med student at UT, but a 3rd year English major who is also in the Business Honors Program. I joined HOPE Austin after a chance conversation with one of my current co-officers on a bus ride home to Dallas during my freshman year. Since then, the organization has filled many roles for me, all of which have added different dimensions to my college life. I’m writing today to share two meaningful experiences that have imprinted the ideas of HOPE upon me and other members. 
My first two HOPE Austin events were helping the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Austin (BCRC) paint and garden the new office on Medical Arts Street. I still have paint stains on one of my sweaters from the event, and I will always remember to put bone meal before soil when planting flowers. What also remains with me is how I met a close-knit group of about 10 members who had also volunteered. They were my view into the world of the pre-med and pre-health students at UT. I learned about their goals and interests, bonding with them among the soil, dirt, and paint.
To be honest, at the end of the projects, I found the experience to be… almost typical. I didn’t see the true impact of the work we had done until we gathered at the end of the morning and spoke with Phyllis Rose, the BCRC coordinator that works with HOPE. 
She thanked us, saying she understood that while it might seem trivial or tiring to paint and garden for an office, it contributed to BCRC’s mission. Each breast cancer patient or survivor was now going to walk up the pathway we planted full of flowers, and enter a headquarters that is not the sterile, stark white of a hospital or doctor’s office. We had helped BCRC enhance the place where patients and breast cancer survivors would become part of support system. Phyllis emphasized that it means a lot for a just-diagnosed breast cancer victim to enter an office with a human feel to it; the patient can receive support in a comfortable environment, which extends beyond the normal medical care received in a hospital.

I left that day knowing the immediate impact I had (even feeling it in my back and legs), and discovered a growing understanding and sympathy for the breast cancer community of Austin.

Two years ago on that bus, Juliette Tran, my co-officer and our current coordinator for Care Teams told me about Care Teams, a team within HOPE that makes and delivers food and decorations to the nurses at University Medical Center Brackenridge. We are a third-party support system for the often under-appreciated nursing staff. Talking to her back then, and even now, I saw how much these projects meant to her and how this side of medical volunteering was an opportunity for me to get involved with the human side of hospitals and healthcare. The semester after hearing this story, I joined HOPE Austin.

My personal memories of hospitals are filled with the smell of antiseptic and rubbing alcohol, and the bleak fluorescent light against bare beige walls. This past November, I walked into UMC Brackenridge with a team of about five other students, armed with turkey cutouts, sweet potato casserole, and mini waffle-cone cornucopias stuffed with candy. We were on a mission to do a floor makeover and leave behind edible evidence of appreciation for the nurses. I was expecting smiles and thank-you’s (all of which we received), but for some reason, I didn’t expect the muffled surprise and humility that I saw.

I had automatically assumed nurses at Brackenridge, and any other hospital, would know that people appreciated them and would be happy to show it. The nurses seemed sheepishly thankful of our appreciation, exclaimed how excited they were for the food, and of course, continued to steadily do their job. I left one hour later realizing that while patients and doctors do appreciate the nurses, it never hurts to show them that students are willing to volunteer just to extend an extra indication of thanks.

Care Teams has become one of my favorite parts of HOPE Austin; The themes are fun, the time goes by quickly (almost to the point of an occasional time crunch), and we can be proud of our results. And of course, being able to dress up a hospital environment makes Care Teams a fun part of HOPE Austin.  
To sum up, the members, officers, and organizations we work with seem to always find a way to immediately convey the impact we’ve had on them. As a non-future-doctor, I’ve asked my fellow future doctors (although not all our members are future doctors or even want a future health occupation) how this volunteering impacts them – I can summarize it for you in one sentence: they’ve been connected and exposed to the human side of medicine, they’ve built relationships with other students and the city of Austin, and they’ve been part of a community founded on addressing health issues.
I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in HOPE to reach out to our organization, because we specialize in getting to know people who are interested in volunteering or have career or personal goals we can relate to. 

Care Teams applications open every Fall and membership within Care Teams is for one academic year – you must be an active member of HOPE Austin to be part of Care teams.
To be a member of HOPE Austin, there is no application but there are membership requirements. For more information, please contact hopeatx@gmail.com, like our page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, @hopeatx.  Meetings are every other Tuesday. 

Letter From the Editor

Texas Public Health Presents: Public Health Week 2014