Elizabethtown, Pa. — For many college students, the weekend is a time to relax; a time to press pause on your responsibilities, recharge and hang out with friends. But for Elizabethtown College sophomore, Alexa Habermehl, the weekend is a time to give back.
Every Sunday morning, Alexa commutes to the Penn State Hershey Hospital to volunteer as a Child Life Specialist. Alexa is an early childhood education major, but she is exploring the possibility of becoming a Child Life Specialist in the future.
What is a child life specialist?
A Certified Child Life Specialist is a trained professional that helps aid patients and their families affected by illness and disease. Their goal is to guide patients and families to cope with the strain of chronic illness, injury or loss.
Since Alexa is simply a volunteer, her responsibilities are a bit different. Each day, her and the other volunteers will receive a short list of patients, which includes their age, condition, and something they like to do or play with, to visit.
Aside from visiting, other tasks include cleaning toys, playing games with children and holding babies.
The role of a Child Life Specialist appealed to Alexa due to her love of children and desire to serve others. However, the process of becoming one is competitive and tedious.
How to become a certified specialist
There is no such thing as a Child Life Specialist major. In order to get certified, you must earn the following:
- bachelor’s degree in any area of study
- specific classes through the Assoc. of Child Life Specialists (ACLP)
- 100 hours of volunteering
- 600 hours of unpaid internship
Since being a Child Life Specialist major is not an option, Alexa spent hours researching to learn more about the career path. She called several hospitals hoping to shadow a certified Child Life Specialist. Though she wasn’t given permission to shadow someone, the Penn State Hershey hospital invited her to come speak to a specialist to get a better sense of what they do.
During her meeting at the hospital, the certified specialist informed her of a volunteer position. She was quick to jump on the opportunity.
“I really wanted to at least volunteer and see what it’s like getting used to a hospital setting and that kind of stuff,” she said.
In order to become a volunteer, she had to submit a general application and a second application specific to the Child Life Program. She also had to submit her FBI clearances and get blood drawn. Once everything was approved, she had to have two one-on-one meetings/interviews, followed by a safety orientation.
Though her scheduled volunteer hours and the commute to the hospital require her to wake up early, she said that it’s the highlight of her week. Being able to give her patients a visit and brighten their day simultaneously brightens her day.
“I think it’s really rewarding to actually be able to go and even if it’s something so simple as just holding a baby, that’s some extra love and attention that they wouldn’t be getting if you weren’t there,” Alexa said.
However, it’s not always easy. The reality is that these kids are sick. It can sometimes be challenging for her to be content in her current role.
“There’s really not much that I can do to help them in my situation besides just play with them and talk to them”
Nonetheless, her impact is anything but minimal.
Her time as a volunteer has been useful. Although she was hoping to get a degree in early childhood education while working towards her certification concurrently, it is not feasible at the time.
She plans to continue to study early childhood education. As for the child life program, she hopes to still be involved in the field in the future.
“Even if I don’t become a certified Child Life Specialist, I’ll definitely still volunteer.”