For 20 fifth-graders and the volunteers who mentor them, one Saturday morning a month is anything but lazy.
As part of the Health Adventures program, wheelchair races may be on the schedule, as well as trying out a treadmill, performing surgery on a stuffed animal or touring a lab.
The program is a collaborative effort of MD Anderson’s Department of Volunteer Services, the nonprofit organization Communities in Schools-Houston and The Junior League of Houston, Inc.
Begun 16 years ago to show kids how math and science can lead to careers at hospitals, Health Adventures brings in students who are bright and motivated but considered at risk for dropping out. They come from two Houston schools, Bastian Elementary and KIPP 3D Academy.
Each student is paired with a supportive mentor and provided information on careers that require hard work to achieve. If the year’s lessons stick, each child will leave with a backpack full of reasons to stay in school.
Ted Bowen: Behind the fun and games
Volunteer Ted Bowen admits he is a mischief maker.
He figures that’s why he gets along so famously with the fifth-graders he mentors as part of MD Anderson’s Health Adventures program.
“We’re the loud table, singing or playing some crazy game when we should be on our best behavior,” Bowen says.
The 35-year-old sales manager, who also volunteers at the Houston Zoo and Houston Museum of Natural Science, doesn’t see how anyone can resist having fun with these kids, but that is not why he has been volunteering as a mentor for the past six years.
He was moved by the caring he saw at MD Anderson when he received treatment for a rare skin disease.
“I was really taken aback about the way people here genuinely care,” Bowen says. “Having someone care makes all the difference. I want to make a difference.”
Health Adventures’ program coordinator, Frances Snipes, says Bowen’s brand of caring is just what the kids he mentors need. No one hanging out with Bowen remains shy or withdrawn for long.
“He’s a big kid himself,” she says. “He’s not embarrassed to be silly, and he’s going to make sure that each child has a good time. It puts a smile on your face just to see him coming.”