Candy Striper program in need of adult volunteers

The East Kootenay Regional Hospital's Candy Striper program is in desperate need of volunteers to continue operating

Volunteer supervisor Helen Luke with three youth volunteers at East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

Patients at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital have enjoyed the companionship and care of the Candy Striper program since the 1960s.

But now that program is looking for adult volunteers to keep it in the hospitals where it is a bright light amongst patient care.

Sandy Zeznik, president of the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary (CHCA) said the program is chalk full of eager youth volunteers, but they need adult supervisors to keep the program going.

“It’s not because of the kids,” she said. “We need the head people to look over the Candy Striper program. These young people need some supervision – we don’t want to let this program go.”

Those adult volunteers provide training and supervision for the young volunteers as they do their hours. Many youth use the program to earn the 30 hours required to graduate. Students looking for a career in the medical field are particularly interested in the program, as they get to see nurses and doctors in action. Zeznik said they even get to lend a helping hand sometimes to nurses as they complete their daily duties.

“This is a nice program, especially if they’re interested in the medical field,” she said. “They get an opportunity to see what help they can be in a couple hours.”

Most volunteers spend about three hours after school in the facilities gaining their hours. In that time, Zeznik said they get a real sense of what their effort is doing for the patients.

“They’re really helping people. They’re doing a vital job,” she said.

For the patients, the program is invaluable. A hospital stay can be a stressful time, and the volunteers get water or other items or simply lend an ear and chat.

“I think it’s the joy of seeing young people volunteer,” Zeznik said.

To become a Candy Striper volunteer, you must be a member of the CHCA, which is a mere $8 for a yearly membership. The program runs in both the hospital and the Joseph Creek Care Home.

Zeznik said the Candy Striper program was recently renamed to the Youth Program to suit the modern environment in which it runs.

It has been around in Cranbrook since the 1960s, and has been under the direction of long-time volunteer Helen Luke since 1997. She recently retired after 15 years leading the program, leaving a gap in supervision and a need to find new volunteers. When the program first began training was done over a period of months. It is now shortened and takes a few hours in one evening to be certified to volunteer in the hospital or care home.

The CHCA has decided to increase the number of co-ordinators for the program to three to better suit the time and complexity involved with the program.

To get involved with the Candy Striper program, contact Zeznik at (250) 426-2660.

The program has its roots in a New Jersey high school civics class in 1944. The girls in the class used striped fabric from their teacher to create the traditional red and white striped pinafore that is still used today.