If you are interested in joining Streetlight, please take the time to look through the website, and read my letter below.
It may seem like a discouraging letter, but we really are not looking for a UF student simply wanting community service hours. We want people genuinely committed to adolescent care.
A few thoughts to share with you…
It is important to us that you really understand what you are getting into with Streetlight. We have a tight-knit team and we work with critical and chronically ill adolescents age 13 – 25, and sometimes they die. And if they live, they may suffer with pain and depression.
It is not easy work. Most of the team members will tell you that while it is emotional work, it is also very rewarding work. Some days you feel like you have really made a difference in some teenager’s life. Some days you feel like you were just passing out movies and video games. You just never know.
Our primary purpose is to companion with them – to form relationships with them where they have lost relationships because of their illness, and to restore some sense of normalcy while they are dealing with their illness. We are looking for people who will make a commitment to Streetlight for at least two years and hopefully more. This helps our patients here to not feel like there is a revolving door of support, but that they are seeing the same faces throughout their treatment, and that their support is consistent. We are looking for people that are extremely committed to our goals, and have a passion for helping hospitalized adolescents.
What does that mean?
Teenagers that are sick are sometimes rude, dismissive, depressed, or unresponsive. The way they see it, they are dealing with illness at a time in their life which should be cool and fun. Instead they are stuck in a hospital, in pain, maybe losing their hair and sometimes their identity. They may not particularly want your company, so you need ‘thick-skin’. In other words, you can’t take it personally. They don’t express their appreciation like little children do. It is easier for them to feel and be negative.
Everyday we do room visits where we offer movies and some peer companionship. That means walking in “cold” to a teen’s room and inviting yourself into their world – which is sometimes painful, disappointing and depressing. That is not easy. The evening Teen Lounge is offered every Mon, Tues, Wed and Thurs and is their chill time – to play pool, Rock Band, Guitar Hero, the Wii, or bead a necklace. Sounds like fun, right? We walk into that teenager’s room and find the lights off, the TV on (but too low to hear), blankets over their head, trying to spend most of their time asleep or in “Benadryl dream-land”. Encouraging that teen to come out of their room is difficult and takes a certain kind of person, and personality.
Despite the challenges, there are some incredibly rewarding experiences we have here, too. It is invaluable experience for someone going into the health care profession. And the courage you see in most of these teenage patients far outweighs the depression you see. It takes a certain kind of person to do this work. And it is okay if you are not that person, but it is the kind of person we are looking for in this program. It is why I give so much weight to someone recommended by a present Streetlight member or a health care worker that knows the program. Think hard about all of this and see if it really feels like you.
Streetlight takes preference to Sophomores and Juniors. No offense meant to seniors, but building relationships with our patients takes time and needs to last longer than a year. Chronic illnesses do not go away. To really become a companion with one of our teens or young adults requires a longer time commitment. Please think seriously before you apply. If this is something you can commit to for two years, we would love to accept your application. We also, prefer to have applicants who have experience with teenagers and young adults, are in a pre-health field, and/or have had a meaningful hospital experience of their own.
We ask you not to apply unless you know you have two years that you can give to the program, and that you can commit to three hours weekly. We have a long waiting list to be part of Streetlight, therefore we expect the members we select to be committed to their 3 hour shift weekly, with few, if any exceptions. Please think about it first. We ask Streetlight members make this service a priority in their life.