Oct. 16, 2012
For most college students, having to be somewhere at 8:00 a.m. is not exactly an ideal scenario. For Vanderbilt women's basketball player Gabby Smith, it has become the norm.
Smith, a psychology major, has class at 8:00 a.m. Monday-Thursday. On Friday, instead of taking an opportunity to catch some extra sleep, the senior heads across campus to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to volunteer.
She spends her time going around to the hospital's waiting areas, helping to occupy patients with all types of arts and crafts. From coloring books and crayons to stickers and construction paper, Smith is the person to find when kids need to pass the time before appointments.
Smith started volunteering as a junior, as part of a requirement for a psychology class called The Hospitalized Child.
"We learned about different recourses there are for families and kids at the hospital," Smith said. "We had a certain number of hours to fulfill for the class, but I enjoyed it so much that I kept doing it."
While two hours a week may not sound like much on the surface, for a full-time student who is also playing Division I basketball, the commitment is certainly more than most would be willing to make.
"I think saying I don't have enough time is the easy way out," Smith explained. "Saying `I'm a college athlete, I don't have time for that,' is kind of selling yourself short. Everyone has time for whatever they want to do, you just have to make it."
Smith says regardless of what she encounters among the kids on any given day, it has become one of her favorite things to do each week.
"Sometimes you'll be there and the kids are happy and energetic and they look healthy, but then sometimes you'll turn around and see a kid with no hair or that doesn't have the mobility to color, so that gets kind of hard," Smith said.
Sometimes though, Smith gets even more out of the tough days than the fun days.
"It just kind of puts things in perspective for me, because basketball can get hard, but at the end of the day I'm thankful because I can play basketball," Smith reflected. "My body can handle that and my body can take the stress of it all."
When asked about the moment she has taken the most away from in her year-plus at the hospital, Smith recalled a child at the hospital from a disadvantaged background that was thrilled to have a chance just to enjoy some arts and crafts time.
"Kids are always excited about crayons and stickers and stuff," Smith explained. "But he probably came up to my cart five times. `Oh my gosh! You have construction paper!' He just couldn't get enough. Every little thing to him was like a million dollars and it just made his world."
On the hospital's side, volunteers like Smith are a huge part of the care provided for families and patients.
"Who would think that a simple coloring sheet and a couple of crayons or a game of Connect Four could lessen stress and anxiety?" said Jeannie Temple, the Activities Coordinator with Volunteer Services at the hospital. "We are truly blessed that we have volunteers like Gabby who give so freely of their time and talents."
And if others are looking for a way to contribute, Smith has a simple answer.
"Crayons! It's amazing how fast we go through crayons."
Who knew that something as simple as a crayon could mean so much?