Volunteens Change Their Stripes

Times Staff Writer

When Mona Dyjor returned home she could not stop talking to her family about what she had just witnessed while on duty at Downey Community Hospital.

“You see it on television and in the movies, but nothing is like the real thing,” Dyjor said.

“Seeing the mother’s expression when she sees the baby for the first time. . . ,” she said, waving her hands but stopping short of describing fully the birth she had watched.

Dyjor is a Candy Striper, but instead of running errands and answering telephones, she and 60 other young volunteers from Downey schools were working in the hospital emergency room, obstetrics, the labs and with patients.


Dyjor, a recent Warren High School graduate, was participating in the Volunteen Program at Downey Community Hospital.

It was as part of the program that she found herself in the delivery room watching the birth of a child. “I was only in there for the last 10 minutes of the delivery,” Dyjor said. “The nurses showed and explained everything to me, step by step.”

The Downey hospital last year began allowing Volunteens to work in the medical departments.

“Before, we just sat at the desk. Now we have more physical contact with people,” said Jennifer DeKay, 16, of Downey High School. She has been a Volunteen for two years and believes the change has been for the better. “You get to see what it is really like.”


The result has been an increase in enrollment and more male participation, said Dari Caldwell, director of nursing administration.

The premise of Downey Community’s Volunteen program is simple: introduce the young person to as many aspects of the health field as possible so that he or she will consider a career in the medical field.

Candy Stripers still wear the traditional pink and white striped uniforms, and state law prohibits the volunteers, and all non-medical personnel, from administering medicine or offering medical advice.

Caldwell is one of three advisers in the program who was instrumental in bringing about the changes. The hospital’s auxiliary had coordinated the old program since its founding in 1965 and allowed youths to work only at menial tasks.


Now, the Volunteens have their own bank account and officers. They raise funds that will be used to purchase equipment for the hospital at the end of the year.

Three annual scholarships have been established by the nursing administration’s retention and recruitment committee to encourage graduating high school seniors to pursue nursing careers at an accredited college and to consider Downey Community Hospital as their first work choice when they complete the college nursing program.

The Volunteen program attempts to make the teen-agers more responsible, and it succeeds, Caldwell said.

“It has been a growing experience for a lot of these workers,” Caldwell said, adding that she is amazed at how much they mature during a year at the hospital.


Downey High School sophomore Henry Castro has worked about 100 hours since he started volunteering last September. He is most helpful to the Downey Community Hospital when the waiting room in the Emergency Room is backed up with patients, according to Lynn Danes, charge nurse.

“Henry helps calm people down when language is a barrier,” Danes said. Castro often acts as interpreter for the staff and patients. “With younger kids he has a rapport. He shows people that they are not . . . being ignored. He makes it a lot easier on us,” Danes said.

Castro is one of five young men participating in the Volunteen program. Although he has not told his male buddies at school that he is a Volunteen, he says his volunteer work is important.

“You get the feeling that you actually are doing something to help somebody. I like that feeling,” said Castro, who hopes to become a cardiologist. “It shows kids what they can do and a way to go. A lot of kids don’t know what to do in life.”