Dean Saridakis, Olivia O’Dwyer and Henry du Pont may just be beginning the process of considering colleges and figuring out what they want to do with their futures, but one thing is certain: Even if they don’t choose professions directly related to medicine, these young leaders already appreciate how vital a strong health care system like Christiana Care is to the vibrancy of a community.
Dean, a freshman at Tower Hill, Olivia, a junior at Archmere Academy, and Henry, a freshman at Tatnall School, are among the 23 founding members of the Young Friends of Christiana Care — teenage children and grandchildren of Christiana Care trustees eager to follow in their elders’ footsteps by embracing the principles of leadership, learning and philanthropy, and to make the mark of their own generation by shaping the future of health care. The group was launched by the three teens’ mothers, Co-Chairs Penny Saridakis, Margaret O’Dwyer, and Diane du Pont, to help tomorrow’s servant leaders gain valuable organizational and fundraising experience while discovering the joy of giving back to the community.
Membership in the Young Friends also gives the teens an insider’s look at the business of medicine and allows them unique opportunities to meet clinical professionals and explore careers in health care. Penny Saridakis, who is vice chair of Trustees, hosted the inaugural Young Friends gathering at her home in February.
“The Young Friends presents an extraordinary opportunity for high school students to understand health care from the inside out, and to build on their commitment to leadership in service to others,” she said. “The philanthropy piece gives them the chance to dig deep and give back.”
At their first meeting, the Young Friends heard from representatives of three Christiana Care programs: First State School, Camp FRESH and the Emergency Department Special Needs Fund. Then came the tricky part — selecting which program’s fundraising team each wanted to join. Anna Erskine, a sophomore at Wilmington Friends School, chose the First State School fundraising team after hearing Elizabeth Houser, MSN, RN, program director, and recent graduate Darren Villanueva explain how funds will allow chronically ill students to experience overnight field trips to round-out the high school experience.
“They are working with kids who are our age,” said Anna, who is the daughter of Trustee Meg Erskine. “I wanted to help give them some of the same opportunities we’ve had.”
When Christopher Moore, who is senior program manager for Adolescent Health at Christiana Care’s Center for Community Health, talked about how Camp FRESH helps teens from low-income neighborhoods develop healthy lifestyles and become health ambassadors in their own communities, it struck a chord with Katie Harris, whose mother, Sissy Harris, is a trustee.
“I like eating healthy and being active and wanted to help provide those chances to other kids,” said Katie, a sophomore at Tower Hill School.
Once a patient in the emergency department herself, Emily Coughenour, a freshman at Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, felt compelled to help Linda Laskowski Jones, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM, FAAN, vice president, Emergency & Trauma Services, make sure that every patient leaves the emergency department with dignity in clean clothing.
“I felt a connection and wanted to help,” said Emily, whose father, Jay Coughenour, and grandmother, Carol Coughenour, are trustees.
The three Young Friends teams quickly set to work coming up with fundraising ideas ranging from basket auctions to letter-writing campaigns. Other ideas included restaurant fundraisers and jeans days, where those who donate earn the right to wear blue jeans to school.
“I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of ideas, the energy and the compassion of these students,” said First State School’s Houser after hearing the Young Friends’ enthusiastic exchange of ideas. “After just one brainstorming session, it’s clear that these teens are already invested in helping Christiana Care,” she said. “Great things can come of this.”