In this monthly Q&A series, we aim to highlight a member of the Princeton community, including students, faculty, and staff, who engages in service. This month, we sat down with Jennie Yang ’20, an ecology and evolutionary biology major, to talk about her experiences as a project leader with the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center (PMPMC)'s student volunteer program and the Rescue Mission of Trenton - both opportunities with Student Volunteers Council at the Pace Center.
How did you get involved in service at Princeton?
“I was a [John. C. Bogle '51 Fellow in Civic Service], which meant I could design my own internship the summer after freshman year. It had to have a service component, so that got me involved with the Pace Center. As a Bogle Fellow, I volunteered at a nature center where I lived in Michigan. I ran programming there for kids, designed an exhibit, and conducted research on the water from the local river. After that, I wanted to join more service groups. It’s pretty cliche, but I like helping people, whether its making sure patients are being taken care of or sorting supplies. Once, I saw that one of the volunteer coordinators at Rescue Mission was spending her time sorting the supplies. I realized she could have been using that time to write grants or something more important, which made me want to help.”
As a project leader, what are your responsibilities with the projects at the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center and Rescue Mission of Trenton?
“For my hospital volunteering, I maintain the list of volunteers, act as a liaison to volunteer services at the hospital, and get out information about how to apply and get van-certified. I also help organize an open house every semester for spring applicants. Within the hospital, I volunteer in the emergency department, taking care of anything patients might need, answering call bells, stocking rooms, and making beds.
As for Rescue Mission of Trenton, it’s a 20-minute drive from campus. Volunteers choose to go on a given day and stay for however long they’re needed, maybe 2-3 hours, and responsibilities can vary. When I went on Monday, I was sorting hygiene supplies between the shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, etc, which we later made into kits for the homeless. Other days we help with meal services or sorting the clothing in the store they have there. It just depends on what they need done.”
What do you find valuable about volunteering as a college student?
“You know someone once asked me if there are specific things I remember from the hospital, and I didn’t realize that there are some stories. One time I met a patient who was fluent in Sanskrit, Mandarin, and Hebrew. I sing in the Jewish acapella group, so I could sing to him and he would understand. People there don’t necessarily need help, they need someone to spend time with them and listen to them. You get things out of these experiences that you wouldn’t expect, especially since these places are so close.”
Why do you think it’s important for students to engage in service while at Princeton?
“One reason I started the program taking Princeton students to Rescue Mission was to get people exposed to what’s outside the orange bubble. People don’t realize that these things are 20 minutes away. I have been trying to recruit people to show them that they can also sort hygiene products and make a difference down the line. Donations are helpful, but I never realized before doing this that there’s always someone on the other side of a donation who has to sort it. It’s also good to get exposed to another population, rather than just other college students. While serving meals, you might hear the employees talking about their lives, and when looking at those who eat there, you realize people near us struggle to eat, whereas here at Princeton we might be worrying about a p-set or something like that.”
Can you share more information about how students can get involved in these projects?
“Applications for hospital volunteering will open later in the fall. More people should know about van certification, although there is a limited number of them. Right now I have a few volunteers for Rescue Mission but it would be good to have more. It’s good to have an assembly line for sorting. They also have meal services every day at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and their discount store for the homeless is open 8:30-5:30 from Monday-Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. Students can get more information on our project pages in the Get Involved section of the Pace Center website.”