A volunteering superstar
● By J. Chambless
Katelyn Kraft works with severely disabled children at Exceptional Care For Children in Newark.
By John Chambless
Katelyn Craft is a 17-year-old student from Landenberg who is in her senior year at Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Del. She was recently recognized in the National Liberty Museum’s TD Bank Young Heroes Award for her many hours of volunteering, and for inspiring others to do the same. An awards ceremony was held on Aug. 15. Craft spoke last month about how serving others comes naturally to her, and how she is inspired by the severely disabled children she works with at Exceptional Care for Children in Newark, Del.
Q.: Did your parents or other family members inspire you to volunteer as a young child?
A.: I was raised by my parents to believe that those who are fortunate should assist those who are less fortunate. I am constantly reminded that “from everyone who has been much given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
How and when did you select Exceptional Care for Children to work with?
I started volunteering at Exceptional Care for Children during the summer of 2016. I had been volunteering with children in middle school, where I was a teacher's assistant during my free periods, which prompted my passion for working with children. My high school has a volunteer requirement, so before high school started I researched various organizations and found ECC. The first time I visited, I fell in love with everything about the place -- the residents and the positive, caring environment created by the nurses, doctors, dietitians, cleaning staff, etc. I never expected ECC to become my favorite place to spend time, resulting in 100-plus hours per year since 2016. That’s a little over 400 hours to date with my young friends.
How much training or preparation did you have before you started working with these children?
I attended an orientation at ECC and then began to spend time in the living rooms with the children, interacting with them during free-play. From there, I started to get more and more involved with play therapy, which is where I spend most of my time now. The children range in age from newborn through about 18 years old.
What sort of activities do you do with them?
It differs per day and per child, but generally with them, I do arts and crafts, read, watch TV, and play with their toys. I do whatever I can to bring a smile to their faces.
Many volunteers, especially at your age, might be intimidated when facing the kind of disabilities these young people have. What satisfaction do you get from volunteering with them?
These patients don't realize they are “needy,” so I don't treat them as though they are. I play with the children just like I would with any other children. They may not be able to do the activity the same way a child without a disability does, but they enjoy doing the activity nonetheless. I do get satisfaction, though, whenever I see the residents making progress in their goals, whether they be learning to walk, talk, or breathe on their own, because I know I have at least played a small part in their journey. There is no happier sight than seeing one of the residents graduate and go home to live with their families. It makes my day when I walk into the building to see the smiles curl up on their faces when they recognize who I am. And the hugs; they're the best. Also, while I miss them when they graduate, I love seeing the joy in the children when they get well enough and gain enough skills to be reunited with their families.
Talk a bit about the other activities you're involved with.
I am a co-Board Chair of our school’s Community Outreach Board, where we encourage Tower Hill’s student body to give back to the communities that have raised us. We are all so fortunate. The main organizations we work with are the Ronald McDonald House, where we go for baking days; and the Saturday Breakfast Club, where we prepare pancakes and sausage to serve to local community members. We also work a lot with the Tower Tots (the pre-K students) and hold various fundraising events.
I also co-lead the Jefferson Awards Club, where we encourage and recognize students for volunteer work in the community. One of our main winter events is The Stocking Project, where we encourage our upper school advisories to prepare Christmas stockings for organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Urban Promise. The Jefferson Awards Club is a great way to recognize the students who do amazing things for our community, and I’m happy to say that there are always quite a few students that deserve this recognition.
Do you inspire your friends and fellow students? Do they know they can expect an invitation from you to help volunteer?
My friends and I encourage each other to follow our passions. For some of us, that is community service, and for others it is social justice issues. We all encourage each other as well as other students and friends to get involved in the community and world around us. Even small contributions add up to big, positive changes. I can always count on my friends to sign up to volunteer at the events I am planning through the Community Outreach Board and Jefferson Awards.
How did you find out about the TD Bank Young Heroes Award?
Honestly, I had never heard about the TD Bank Young Heroes Award until Mr. Joel Sumner called me to tell me I was one of the 13 students who won the award. My teacher, Dr. Kim Fabbri, had nominated me. It was a pretty amazing surprise!
What was the awards ceremony like?
Sadly, I was unable to attend the awards ceremony in person because my family had a prior commitment, but I was given the opportunity to send in a thank you video. Dr. Fabbri attended on my behalf and told me it was a first class event! Thirteen wonderful students and groups of students throughout the United States were recognized for their volunteering accomplishments, and it’s just great that TD Bank takes the time to give the well-deserved recognition to students for their community involvement.
For you, is volunteering something you would do, even if there were no awards or recognition?
I was extremely honored to receive this award, but I don't volunteer to get the "shout outs." I do it because it is my passion. However, it is always great to be recognized for my work at Exceptional Care for Children because that just means more people are informed about a truly amazing place filled with truly amazing people.
People always make time for the activities that are important to them, and that is exactly what I have done with ECC. I never feel that going to ECC is a chore; I always leave ECC in a better mood than when I walk in. These kids inspire me to tackle the challenges in my life (school work, sports training, club leadership) because each one of them displays more courage and faces more adversity on a daily basis than I will in my lifetime. My schedule can be a challenge at times with volunteering, advanced classes, varsity sports, and club responsibilities, but I always find time to go.
What major would you like to pursue in college? Any idea yet?
Working at ECC, I've become more resolute in my desire to become a biomedical engineer, focusing on streamlining the equipment that sometimes seems to encumber the patients’ lives. Ultimately, I'd like to become a pediatric surgeon and perform procedures that will allow me to improve the daily lives of children, not just emotionally but also physically.
Do you see volunteering as a lifelong activity, not just a few times a year?
Yes, I’ve been doing volunteer work through my school and on my own time for about seven years now, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. As I look for colleges, I am committed to choosing one that has easy access to a hospital so that I can continue my volunteer work with children in need and begin to do research on streamlining the equipment these children need to survive.
Name one charity or organization you want to support with a plea for public volunteers.
Exceptional Care for Children! Volunteer with your time or provide financial support; anything you do will help. And while I hope this interview encourages others to get more involved with ECC, the most important plea is that people get involved in their communities to help others. There are countless worthwhile organizations that need and welcome help. Just get involved!