The Language Of Compassion
Karly Kolaja ’11
How many times have you found yourself thinking that you should do some volunteer work? Maybe you’ve even done a quick Google search for “local food pantries” or “shoreline cleanups.” It’s the getting up and doing that’s the hardest part—unless you’re Chris Miller.
A double major in biology and Hispanic studies, Miller ’14 spends much of his free time volunteering at Chester River Hospital Center. But finding his way there wasn’t easy.
“My early perception of this position was that it was some kind of clandestine volunteering opportunity, and I was determined to find it. I had approached a professor in the Modern Languages department about a volunteer position at Chester River Hospital that incorporated Spanish and biology, ” says Miller. “Eventually I hit jackpot.”
Kaitlin Thomas ’07, a lecturer in Spanish and a Spanish interpreter in the community, has worked with a number of local organizations to establish internships and volunteer opportunities for Spanish-speaking students through the new WC-Latino Community Volunteer Program. Chris is among the first student volunteers to be placed with a community agency.
On Thursdays, the hospital offers free dental work and oral care to Hispanic children who don’t otherwise have coverage. Because the surgeon doesn’t speak Spanish, and the patients’ families typically don’t speak English, time spent in the waiting room can be wearisome.
“I will be there to talk with the families and make them feel more comfortable,” he says. “Since almost no one there speaks Spanish, they hope my presence will make them feel better connected and show them that the hospital cares about all of its patients, regardless of origin and language.”
Before taking part in the WC-Latino Community Volunteer Program, he had to go through orientation, training, and pre-employment checks. He was placed at the hospital based on his specific language abilities and academic interests.
Although he’s been studying Spanish for eight years, Miller says that he’s learned the majority of what he knows at Washington College. He spent his sophomore year as an exchange student at Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru (Pontifical Catholic University of Peru) in Lima. This winter, he’ll use a grant from the Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows to intern in a Peruvian hospital working with HIV/AIDS patients.
Even though he put in a lot of effort to get involved at Chester River Hospital Center, Miller acknowledges that it’s not always easy to fit it into his schedule. Making time to volunteer is his biggest obstacle. But of course, that doesn’t stop him.
“With five classes and two labs, my days before volunteering were always pretty chaotic,” he says. “I have, however, come to find that it doesn’t matter how busy you are. Each person can find an hour or two in their weekly schedules if they really want to.”