COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - This summer nearly 80 students from across the state volunteered their time to work with veterans. It's a Youth Summer Program through the Dorn VA Medical Center. Organizers say it's a way to give our youth a chance to learn more about healthcare and our veterans.
"They've all got personalities and stories and they're all just as sweet as can be," says Ivy Munnerlyn as she describes the veterans she volunteered with over the summer.
The soon-to-be senior at River Bluff High School says she heard about the Youth Summer Program because her mom also took part as a teenager.
"She just loved it so much. Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to do it and have the same experiences that she did."
Hoping to one day go into the medical field, Munnerlyn says the hands-on program gave her an up-close look at life on the job.
"I've been able to see veterans pre-operation and I've been able to see surgeries, too. So, I've been able to talk to them beforehand, and then see them in surgery, and then see them recover after surgery," Munnerlyn said. "So, it's really cool to see the whole process of what they go through."
The student volunteers were celebrated for completing the two-month program at a graduation ceremony on Fort Jackson on Thursday. Students say giving back to our veterans makes the experience even better.
"Their stories and how they risked their lives, it just inspires you to help them even more and makes me more passionate," says volunteer, Aishah Reed, a rising junior at Richland Northeast High School.
The feelings seem to be mutual between the youth and veterans.
Dorn VA Recreation Therapist and veteran, Johnny Allen, says the patients "get to see, first hand, how these youth come in and commit themselves to help the veterans. They get to see for the first time that someone does care and that someone is there to spend time with them."
"If you're wanting to go into the medical field, or even if you're not wanting to go into the medical field and you just want to help serve the people who fought for our country, then this program is so amazing because the Volunteer Services Program really tries to give you the most authentic experience," says Munnerlyn.
Those behind the event say they're building the leaders of tomorrow by helping them demonstrate commitment and professionalism, and of course the importance of giving back.
The Youth Summer Program with the Dorn VA had 78 graduates this year who successfully completed the student volunteer work.