Students volunteer with sick kids at UNC Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill

Thursday, December 11, 2014
Students volunteer with sick kids
A student volunteer group at UNC in Chapel Hill has partnered with the UNC Children's Hospital to make life a little more bearable for sick kids.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- A student volunteer group at UNC in Chapel Hill has partnered with the UNC Children's Hospital to make life a little more bearable for sick kids. It's a unique program called CPALS, or Carolina Pediatric Attention, Love, and Support. And it's a program that's changing lives on both ends.

For the past 4 years, 16-year- old David Owens has been in and out of the hospital. What was originally diagnosed as the flu eventually landed him at UNC Children's Hospital after he started feeling faint and blacked out.

"They did MRIs and found out I had a brain tumor. And since then, this has pretty much been like a second home to us," David stated in a very matter-of-fact manner.

Doctors removed the tumor, only to have it return in the teen's spine. But, through his hospital stays, there has been one bright spot, a friendship with Will Bennett, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. The two were paired up through the student volunteer program, CPALS.

"They're regular people but they know what we've been through and they don't look at us weird and stuff," David explained. "They understand what we've been through and know we'd just like to be treated like normal kids."

That includes playing video games and just hanging out together. David and Will have been partnered up for a year and a half and get together every time David's back at the hospital for clinics or inpatient stays.

"It's just another friendship. I value it as a very special relationship. It's not something I do to get anything out of it, it's just something I had the opportunity to do and I've really enjoyed it, I've had a rewarding experience from doing it," said Will.

Because CPALS is sanctioned through the hospital as an official volunteer program, students have to go through training and log a certain number of hours. So far this semester, there are 65 students in CPALS who have spent more than 1,700 hours with sick kids at the hospital.

Most of the participants in the program are from UNC in Chapel Hill, but it is open to any university students if they're willing to make the commute. However, both David and Will are hoping they'll see more males as new recruits.

"We have a couple (guys) right now, but there's a very strong female presence in the organization," said Will with a laugh.

And David echoed that sentiment, explaining that's another one of the things he valued about Will's company.

"Somebody to talk to, other than girls, because that's usually who my nurses are, girls," David said with a twinkle in his eye.

As for what's in store for both young men, Will said while he originally just went into this wanting to volunteer, his experience in the hospital has prompted him to seek a career in the medical field. And David said he's hoping this latest round of chemo will be successful and one day he can return on the other end of this partnership to be a CPAL to someone else.

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