Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Volunteer Profile: Annika Johanson

 What would our department do without Annika Johanson?  From covering the desk in the Surgery Family Waiting Room to distributing flyers for Star Studio, she does it all!  Read on to learn more about this amazing young lady, who has already donated 230 hours of service in 2012!

Annika Johanson, hard at work in the Star Studio!


Where do you volunteer, and how long have you been volunteering?

“I started volunteering at Children’s in June 2011. Currently, I volunteer on Mondays on the inpatient units and in Star Studio (Bingo), and Tuesdays with Star Studio (Kids’ Clubhouse) and the Surgery Family Waiting Room. Last summer, I volunteered in both the Surgery Family Waiting Room and the Pre-Surgery Program for child life. This past January, I did a little bit of everything for a career exploration credit through my college.”

What is your educational background & future career interest?

“I just received my B.A. in Psychology from Gustavus, and want to become a Child Life Specialist!”

What brought you to Children’s?

My dad is a pediatrician and my mom used to be a pediatric nurse, so, growing up, I was familiar with and felt comfortable in the hospital setting. As I began to consider different pediatric healthcare careers in college (Child Life, in particular), I decided to start volunteering to help myself figure out what direction I should take. I wanted not just to be around kids, but to be with kids – and to do something to help others while also learning more about myself. ”

What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you’re not volunteering?

“Outside of volunteering at Children’s, I enjoy painting, origami, cooking/baking, jetskiing, being outdoors, and just spending quality time with my friends and family. During the summer, I love being a nanny to two very awesome little girls!”

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

“My experience at Children’s has been more than I had ever expected it to be! The best part by far is the kids – being able to make that little connection that makes a big difference, even when you can’t see it right away. I’ve come to understand the value of a simple smile when it seems like everything else in the child’s world is going wrong. I get to be a kid again when I go to Children’s…who could ask for anything more?” :)

Thank you, Annika, for being such an incredible asset to our volunteer program!   We’re lucky to have you!

Volunteer Profile: Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown is a Normandale nursing student who has been a volunteer on the inpatient units at Children’s-Minneapolis since November 2011.  He is currently on a leave of absence to care for his infant son:  as you’ll see from the pictures above, we’re sure that Anthony has all the right “kid skills!”

What is your educational background & future career objective?

“I am currently in my final year of nursing school.  My goal is to become a full-time children’s nurse.  I enjoy helping kids recover and feel better.”

What brought you to Children’s?

“I decided to volunteer in order to gain experience in the hospital setting.  I also wanted to influence and help children’s recovery.   I think that children need to have fun and play, despite the fact that they are in the hospital.”

What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you’re not volunteering?

“I love to travel.  In fact, I have traveled to 30 countries on all populated continents (never quite made it to Antarctica).  I enjoy learning about other cultures, and experiencing different ways of life.  At home, I enjoy outdoor activities such as softball, fishing, and hiking.  My two favorite sports are baseball and football.” 

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

“I really like helping kids have fun.  I like seeing them smile and laugh, and forget about their ailments for the time being.  I also enjoy allowing parents to have time to rest and relax while I care for their child.

P.S.  A special perk is that I get to make fun of Ingrid and Jenna…they could always use a little provoking!”

Thank you, Anthony, for your fun-loving spirit and good humor! 

Volunteer Profile: Erik Mendoza-Riveros

Erik Mendoza-Riveros is one of the most motivated high-schoolers that you will ever meet!  For the past year, he has committed to volunteering on weekends (Saturday/Sunday shifts), in addition to a busy school schedule!  Erik describes his motivations for volunteering below:
“Hi!  My name is Erik Mendoza-Riveros.  I have been volunteering for a year at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.  I am very optimistic about life:  my motto is to make the best out of any and every situation.  My intentions are always to help others, and to treat everyone the way that I want to be treated.

I am a student at Roosevelt High School.  Before coming to Children’s, I thought, “Well…I need sixty volunteer hours for school; why not try Children’s Hospital?”  I am a very busy man, and try to be as involved as possible with as many things as I can: consider me a “multitasker!” My inspiration to be the person that I am today is my friend, Samuel Joaquin Flores:  I look up to him, and he is my role model.

As I started to volunteer more and more, trying to adapt my tough schedule at the same time, I felt more involved in the hospital.  I now feel truly connected to these kids’ perspectives: I, myself, have gotten very sick, and spending only a couple of days in the hospital makes me feel like I need the outdoors.

I cannot express my gratitude for being a volunteer at Children’s, I don’t get paid, and don’t wish to volunteer for hours anymore, either.  I simply want to make children smile. I believe that, on a personal level, I get more from volunteering than the mere hours that I put in: I get to make a child’s day at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota!”

 Thank you, Erik, for your dedication to brightening patients’ days here at Children’s!  We appreciate you & your commitment!

A Day in the Life of a Children’s Hospital Volunteer

Each week is different as a Children’s Hospital Volunteer! We asked Meredith Gilroy, a fantastic volunteer at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, to take us through a “typical” volunteer shift on the inpatient units.

Meredith writes:

“Volunteers at Children’s-St. Paul start off their day at the Volunteer Services office. Here, volunteers sign in, pick up their red vest, keys and the (oh-so-important!) float phone, and stop to say “hello” to Kristi and Lisa. After leaving the Volunteer Services office, it’s up to the inpatient floors to visit patients!

Meredith signs in for her volunteer shift and checks in with Lisa Munson, Volunteer Coordinator

First, I check in at the nurse’s station to see if they know of any patients who need a volunteer, and go from there. Sometimes when I’m logging in at the Volunteer Services office, Lisa or Kristi will give me a few room numbers for patients who have requested a visit from a volunteer, and I start with a visit to those rooms.

I’m a “float” volunteer here at Children’s Hospital. Float volunteers serve all the inpatient units, and are often called throughout the shift by nurses or the Volunteer Services staff, with requests to check on patients who would enjoy visiting with a volunteer. The activities volunteers do with the children on the inpatient units on a daily basis range from reading a book, watching a movie, playing a game, hanging out in the playroom, doing a craft project with the Child Life staff, or going for a ride in the Fisher Price car around the wing. Sometimes we even have a visit by one of the PAWH Program dogs! One of the many benefits to being a float volunteer is that we are able to visit every patient wing of the hospital and spend time with children anywhere, from newborns to teens.

Meredith checks in with Lois Lindquist, a nurse on the 4th floor inpatient unit, and assists with keeping the playroom tidy!

No two volunteer shifts are the same for a float volunteer!

When I first started volunteering at Children’s Hospital, I was looking to help the kids in the hospital any way I could. I never imagined how much I would take away from it. There is never a day I leave my volunteer shift without a smile on my face.”

Thank you, Meredith, for all that you share with us each day as a volunteer here at Children’s Hospital!

Pre-Surgery Program: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Contributed by Leah Grengs, who has been an amazing Pre-Surgery Program volunteer since 2005! Leah writes:

“Thursday is my favorite day of the week!

For the past seven years, every Thursday night, I have helped a multidisciplinary team of Children’s staff and volunteers teach patients, siblings and parents about their upcoming surgeries at Children’s-St. Paul as part of the Pre-Surgery Program (PSP). After the program, kids who were initially scared are often excited to come back and pick out a Lip Smacker smell for their anesthesia mask. In addition to witnessing the changes in the children that occur within a few short hours, I have also spoken with staff members who rave about the difference this program makes, and have volunteered with families throughout other areas of the hospital who have told me how much the program helped. We’ve also seen families return to the program when they have another child who needs surgery. Often the parents thank me again and tell their children, “This is the girl that taught [you or name of sibling] about surgery.” Although this makes me feel super old (way older than 23), every time it happens, I glow for weeks thinking about it!

Pre-Surgery Program Volunteers Jake Starsiak, Evan (puppet), Leah Grengs and Robert Mills

In addition to PSP, I have volunteered on the inpatient units in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, the surgery waiting room in Minneapolis and the Emergency Department in St. Paul, but have always thought of PSP as my baby. Not only because I have done it for so long, but because the mission of the program resonates with me on a much deeper level.

When I was younger, I had a stroke from a brain tumor and remember waking up at Children’s after my surgery, scared and confused, while my parents and doctors started throwing all of these big words at me, such as hemorrhage, glioma and thalamus. I was paralyzed and told I would probably not be able to walk again, but that was all I understood. At PSP, we talk to the kids about special medicine air and going into a special medicine sleep. We help the kids understand what will happen and not to be afraid; that people at Children’s are nice, wear clean clothes called scrubs, and will take good care of them.

After seven years, every Thursday before PSP (and now every Tuesday for my Emergency Department shift), I still experience an excited anticipation, and wake up in the morning so happy, because I know that I will be able to make such a huge difference for Children’s patients and their families!”

Thank you, Leah, for all you do with the Pre-Surgery Program, and as a volunteer here at Children’s Hospital!

Children’s Twin Lakes Clinic: Occupational Therapy Volunteer Assistant

IMG_3443 (2)

Contributed by Caitlyn Bistodeau, Children’s volunteer (pictured with Katie Gehrz, OT):

“As a volunteer at Children’s-Roseville, I have a slightly different experience than when I volunteered at Children’s-St. Paul. On Tuesday mornings, I get to spend time with two awesome occupational therapists, Katie [Gehrz] and Kathy [Engebretson], and their incredible clients.  Before meeting with clients, I help pick out activities, equipment, and toys that will be used in their therapy sessions. During sessions, I observe, play with clients, and assist Katie or Kathy to make each session fun, safe, and effective for the client and his/her family.

Katie and Kathy both have a wealth of knowledge and experience that I hope to glean from during my time serving them. They are teaching me valuable information about Occupational Therapy that is helping me in my current studies and will help me in my future schooling. I’m currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Special Education and Bible at Northwestern College. My passion, though, lies in Occupational Therapy, in which I desire to get my master’s degree after I complete my undergraduate studies.

It’s not hard to say that volunteering at Children’s-Roseville is one of the highlights of my week. The therapists and clients are a joy to work with, and I’m gaining hands-on experience in a field that I’m passionate about. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to wear the ‘Red Vest’ and serve at Children’s-Roseville.”

Exploring Pharmacy: Volunteer Aubrey Goettsch & Pharmacist Mary Gustafson

Editor’s Note:  Many of our volunteers (student AND adult) come to Children’s to gain experience for a future career in health care.  From time to time, we are able to arrange informational interviews between volunteers and Children’s staff members. We truly appreciate staff taking the time to chat with our volunteers, and volunteer Aubrey Goettsch is one example of a volunteer who has benefitted greatly from an interview like this!


Aubrey writes:  “Children’s Volunteer Services helped me set up an informational interview with pharmacist Mary Gustafson so that I could learn more about a job that I’m really interested in.  I’d been looking forward to this for a while, and it surpassed all of my expectations.  Mary was so friendly, and it was very helpful to find out how she’s gotten to where she is. Mary’s the kind of person who really loves her job, and the interview left me feeling excited to pursue such a rewarding career.

I’ve always felt that a career in pharmacy would be a good fit for me, but I still had many questions about the field.  During our interview, I found out how Mary got to where she is today (where she went to college, her previous jobs, etc).  I also found out what, exactly, a pharmacist’s job entails, and who they work with on a daily basis. Mary also explained the difference between working at a clinical pharmacy and a hospital pharmacy, which is something  that I’ve always wondered about. Overall, I was happy to learn that this job requires personable people, because that’s the kind of job I’m looking for!  Having this interview really helped me realize that this is a career I want to pursue, and I would recommend that any unsure volunteer interview someone in a field that you’re considering. Not only will you learn whether the job is a good fit for you, but you’ll also gain good tips on how to get to that position.”

-Aubrey Goettsch

Guest Blogger: Volunteer/Medical Student Michael Joannides

Editor’s Note:  Mike volunteered at Children’s from December 2008-December 2010, accumulating over 300 total hours of service.  While we were very sad to see him go, we are excited to feature him here as he highlights his new adventures as a medical student abroad!

 Interested in studying medicine in Europe?  I was, and so were at least 120 other students in my medical school class who are currently involved in the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program in Newcastle, UK. 

My name is Michael Joannides.  I am from Eden Prairie, MN and began volunteering at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital in December 2008.   As mentioned above, I am currently studying medicine through St. George’s University (SGU).  The main campus of the school is located in Grenada, approximately 100 miles north of Venezuela in the Caribbean.  However, the MD program offers two routes to achieving a medical degree:  (1) spending your first 2 years studying the Basic Sciences on the island of Grenada, followed by 2 years of Clinical Rotations in the United States (with affiliated hospitals in either New York, Florida, Michigan, or California), or (2) choosing the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program.  The latter program allows you to study your first year of Basic Sciences at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK, followed by a second year of Basic Sciences on the main campus in Grenada, then Clinical Rotations in either the United States or United Kingdom.  Both SGU MD programs are adamant about operating on the same curriculum; therefore, lectures, study material, and exams are the same for either route taken through SGU.

I decided on the Global Scholars Program since the opportunity to experience three types of healthcare systems, along with the easy access to travel throughout Europe, would allow a tremendous experience towards learning medicine.  When I complete my four years of medical school at St. George’s University, I will have observed the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK along with a developing nation’s health care system in Grenada, and the current United States healthcare system.   I look forward to broadening my medical education with cross-cultural medical practices.  Of course, I am also extremely excited to see some sites in Europe.

If you are further interested in this medical program, here is the website: