Growing up, Meredith Harrison would do extra chores to help sponsor a child through World Vision, a nonprofit that fights poverty and injustice. In her spare time, she fostered rabbits for the Michigan Rabbit Rescue, taking them in after their original owners weren’t able to care for them.
With such a strong commitment to caring for others from an early age, it should come as no surprise that Harrison has grown up to pursue a career in caring: medicine. Harrison, a student at the American University of Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), received a Community Outreach Award scholarship, which recognizes students who have shown exceptional dedication to their communities, hospitals or charities.
“Meredith has a heart for service, and a willingness to dream big and envision how she can make a positive difference for others,” says Heidi Lang, pre-health professions advisor at Harrison’s alma mater, Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.
Harrison’s community involvement has only grown since her days of fostering rabbits. During college, she did everything from making baby blankets for local mothers in need, to helping plan and execute a silent auction/benefit dinner that raised more than $6,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. The list of nonprofits she’s volunteered with or charities she’s supported would likely be longer than many students’ transcripts.
However, one of her most memorable volunteer experiences had little to do with providing material needs or funds. Rather, it was her time that truly made a difference.
Giving the Gift of Acknowledgment
For two years, Harrison was part of Living Through Literacy, a student group on Saginaw’s campus that pairs volunteers with local hospice patients to help create lasting memories for loved ones once they pass on. As a volunteer, Harrison would sit with hospice patients to help write their eulogies, create photo boards for future funeral visitations, and write personal letters to loved ones. She got to know many hospice patients through these experiences.
“Meredith has the ability to connect with others and put them at ease,” says Lang. “While her task might have been to write the eulogy, her gift to them was the time she offered to sit, listen, and acknowledge that their life had value.”
One elderly, blind gentleman that Harrison visited over several months “touched her heart.” Because he didn’t have family members that were able to visit and he was blind, his interactions around the facility were limited. After helping him create memoirs and write letters to his only son, who was in prison, she continued to meet with him for weekly visits until he left the facility. Harrison would read him the newspaper and they would discuss everything from the weather to current affairs.
“I’m grateful for the time we were able to share together. He gave me a perspective on life I hadn’t experienced before,” Harrison says. “Although hospice facilities aren’t always thought of as the happiest of places, they’re one of the most fulfilling places to volunteer and learn from.”
An Enduring Legacy
Perhaps Harrison’s biggest source of learning and inspiration was her grandmother, who served as a role model for her and taught her values of kindness and compassion. Harrison spent her freshman year of college caring for her while she suffered from congestive heart failure, which in part inspired Harrison’s decision to become a physician.
“Throughout my life, my grandmother taught me how to treat people with compassion, how to act in a nonjudgmental manner, and many more important qualities,” Harrison says. “After sitting by her bedside during countless hospitalizations, I realized I could really make a difference by being a physician—a member of the team that heals and consoles. I hope to become a physician who embodies all the values she taught me.”
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Posted June 21, 2016 10:48 AM