The teenage girl’s movement was restricted by braces that kept her body aligned and her head up. She could barely raise her arms above her waist.
Owen Young sat across from her, helping her to eat. As they chatted, he noticed her fingernails were chipped. He asked if she’d like to have her nails done.
Tears formed in the teen’s eyes as she said, “Yes, please.”
Young said he’d find someone to paint her nails, but the teen asked him to do it. He warned her he had no experience.
“I trust you,” she said.
Young has built the trust of many patients and families in nearly 11 years as a volunteer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In addition to impromptu nail painting, he bonds with patients in the Child Life Auditorium, the hematology-oncology unit and the pediatric and cardiovascular intensive care units. One day he might help a nurse escort a patient to the holiday-season All Kids Wonderland to pick out gifts for his siblings and another Young might play a game in the auditorium. Sometimes, he just sits and provides company for a child whose parents can’t be there.
“He does amazing work each and every day,” says Katie Grabowski, M.S., CCLS, a Child Life specialist. “Not only is he incredibly thorough, knowledgeable and flexible, but he is so dedicated to his work and giving patients/families the best possible experience.”
Young credits his father and grandfather with instilling his work ethic and his mother with cultivating his desire to volunteer and help others. He has been doing it his whole life.
He spent 35 years developing and managing vocational and employment placement programs for adults with developmental disabilities in Rochester, New York, working with an active volunteer program. During much of that time, he volunteered at a domestic violence shelter. He has continued working or volunteering in areas that help people, including managing the Food Bank at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, working with a team of volunteers on a daily basis. He now manages the local Pearson Professional Center, providing credentialing testing for most medical specialties.
“I enjoy the feeling you get when you have helped someone in a big or small way,” Young says of his volunteer work at the hospital, “and having the privilege of seeing first hand all of the good things going on ‘under the radar’ by such a committed group of true professionals.”
When he started, Young wasn’t aware of any connections he had to Johns Hopkins All Children’s, but since then, he has encountered hundreds of ways the hospital has intersected with people in his life. As a volunteer, he now is intersecting with hundreds of others on the hospital’s behalf.
Young remembers a 4-year-old whose parents couldn’t be there. She didn’t want to be alone. When he came to her room, she sat at the end of the couch, clutching her pillow and blanket. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want to play. She didn’t want to do an activity.
So he sat.
Slowly, she warmed up. She wiggled along the couch toward him. She placed her feet on his lap, her head on the pillow and fell asleep, knowing he couldn’t leave without waking her.
“The power of just being there,” he says.