Senior Edition 2018: Features
From Cleaning Toys to Changing Lives
Article by Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell
Awaiting instructions regarding the day’s busy volunteering tasks, she began cleaning toys, tidying up the room, and greeting patients who made their way through the rotating doors of children’s hospital. As she picked up her fourth toy, which was surprisingly sticky for 9 a.m., a voice echoed from the back of the room. “I think today’s your day.”
Most days, shadowing an occupational therapist was pretty mundane. All there was to do was clean and soak up as much knowledge as possible before returning to the high school world of book reports, math tests, and extra curriculars. Her third day volunteering, however, something changed. “The person whom I usually helped was nowhere to be found so I just started cleaning toys like I usually did,” Amber says. Just as she finished cleaning, the woman she was shadowing came out and told Amber there was a patient Amber could observe named Josh.
As Josh and his mom walked in, Amber noticed that he had a few issues with his mouth muscles and had trouble controlling his temper. “He couldn’t focus for more than a second or two, and it was my job to keep him distracted so he wouldn’t throw toys,” Amber recalls.
At first, she had no idea what to do. She’d never had to treat a patient before. What if something went wrong? What if she couldn’t do what she had been dreaming of for years? What if wasn’t isn’t what she was meant to do? These thoughts faded as Amber began singing. And dancing. And doing what she felt came naturally. Much to her surprise, it worked.
“He was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe it.”
After he calmed down, the actual occupational therapist was able to get him to swallow his food. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal to Amber. The kid had a problem, the therapist fixed it. It was all part of the job, right? Not in this case. Josh had never been able to swallow food before. WIth Amber’s help, he was relaxed enough to actually do it. Amber couldn’t believe it. She helped nurture someone, an actual human being, to do something completely novel to them. It was exhilarating. “His mom broke down in joyful tears and I continued to sing and dance around to help keep him focused. I probably looked a bit crazy. Eventually, he swallowed a few more times and I knew. I knew right then and there that I wanted to feel that way for the rest of my life.”
When Amber officially decided on occupational therapy as her career, she felt a special connection to her brother, Jared. When Jared left to train for the army last year, Amber lost her best friend. “He became my person that I told everything to. We did everything together. I genuinely have never met anyone with such a strong work ethic and desire to do something. He shipped off to training in Fort Benning, Georgia like three days after christmas. It was so so hard.” With all the heartache that came with her brother leaving, Amber knew he was doing what he was always meant to do: serve the country. Even if it’s not on the exact same “level” as being in the army, Amber believes her life will also be about serving in the future.
Although Amber pictures herself serving in the future, her friends have noticed the care and attention Amber gives everyone, as if she’s already training for the job. Addie Collins, long time friend of Amber, was not surprised by Amber’s choice to become an OT. “It’s like everything she did in high school wasn’t for her, but for her future patients.”
Shannon Jelley, friend of Amber’s for seven years, has experienced Amber’s selflessness more than most. Shannon views Amber as overwhelmingly selfless, kind, and thoughtful. According to Shannon, she’ll drop anything for the people around her, and does such a great job at making everyone feel included and loved. “Amber and I have known each other for a long time. We’ve got a lot of memories together, but my favorite one is probably from last year. I was incredibly busy and stressed. She brought me breakfast to school, and an amazing note about how much she loves me and how I will be okay. I still have the note and it’s a great reminder of how I need to be more like Amber, how I need to show more love and compassion every single day, the way she does so effortlessly.”
Amber exudes a light that allows her to care for people in the smallest gestures everyday. From getting friends breakfast to foolishly singing and dancing around a therapist’s office, Amber’s altruism truly changes lives.