Volunteers raise hopes

Cindy Srinivasan may be a young university student, but she’s already had many years of experience volunteering with Covenant Health.

“I started volunteering at the Misericordia Community Hospital and Villa Caritas in October of 2016, when I was 14,” says Cindy. “My mom is a registered nurse at the hospital, and hearing her talk about health care encouraged me to volunteer there. I have done all kinds of things as a volunteer — playing piano, working in the gift shop, entrance screening and visiting with patients.”

In 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and because her mom was working in the COVID-19 unit, Cindy wanted to do something to support staff at the hospital. In collaboration with Misericordia staff and her friends, she formed the Raising Hopes Student Initiative, a student group at the University of Alberta that supports staff and patients at the Misericordia and promotes health care among students. 

“Initially, I reached out to one of my friends who was a volunteer at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Brenda Shim and Espie Alvez in Volunteer Services at the Misericordia hospital,” says Cindy.

To clarify what the group was going to do and how it was different from other groups, Brenda Shim, volunteer services manager, suggested that Cindy and her friend create a business plan.

“When I saw the depth of the proposal,” says Brenda. “I thought, ‘She means business.’ I agreed to be the program sponsor and to help ensure what they are doing is what staff and patients find meaningful and purposeful.”

While developing the business plan, Cindy realized that the best way to start something like this was through the University of Alberta where she is a student and to create a student group. Raising Hopes was officially created in August 2021. Being a student group gave Cindy and her friends access to supports, services and grants on campus, as well as a huge population of potential volunteers. 

“We started with nine people, and now we have over 150 members,” says Cindy.

Since forming in 2021, Raising Hopes has held several fundraisers, including bottle drives, customized bookmark sales, Valentine’s candygram sales, and in March 2023, a Krispy Kreme donut sale. The group has also hosted a healthcare event each year at the University of Alberta to connect students and healthcare professionals and researchers.

The funds raised have gone towards creating self-care bags for Misericordia staff, including groups that are not top of mind when people think of hospital staff. Raising Hopes has also created and distributed gift baskets to units and departments around the hospital and at Villa Caritas. And they worked collaboratively with Misericordia Active Youth (MAY), Jasper Place Key Club and other volunteer groups at the Misericordia to distribute pens and highlighters to staff at shift changes during the pandemic.

Staff reaction to the self-care bags and gift baskets was positive.

“These were made with love; it gives you hope so you feel appreciated and cared for,” says Deb Chalupa, unit supervisor of orthopedics.

The money raised from the recently completed donut fundraiser will be used for patients.

“The March 2023 Krispy Kreme fundraiser will support patients in the emergency department who have long wait times with compassion bags,” says Cindy. “We want to make sure they have the essentials they need for unexpected stays, things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. This will be one of our bigger projects because we are trying to make it continuous so that staff can hand out the packages based on need.”

Even though Cindy is graduating this spring and may not be at the University of Alberta next fall, Raising Hope’s executive team will keep the group going and continue to support the hospital.

“Cindy is driven to make a difference in medicine,” says Brenda. “She’s been training other volunteers like her, so I’m pretty confident that Raising Hopes will continue her legacy once she graduates and pursues further education in medical sciences.” 

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