116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A love of volunteering
Feb. 22, 2023 7:00 am
Meena Ramadugu couldn’t wait to start volunteering as a teen
As a young teenager, Meena Ramadugu couldn’t wait to start volunteering — and hasn’t slowed down since. She first interviewed at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids the month after she turned 14, the youngest age you can be to volunteer at the hospital.
“Meena quickly demonstrated herself to be determined, responsible, and kind,” according to St. Luke’s. She started as a “First Impressions” volunteer at the West Entrance of the building, greeting and directing patients and visitors. Over the course of her nearly 300 hours of service at St. Luke’s, she frequently requested and received roles with greater responsibility, each time stepping up to the challenges and duties presented by each one.
Ramadugu has always had an eye on the medical field for her future career.
“A big part of my decision to volunteer at St. Luke’s was that I wanted to learn more about the field I was interested in,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do health care. My parents discouraged me from pursuing it because they know it’s a really draining lifestyle, so I decided I wanted to learn more and gain experience before committing to something I’d do my entire life.”
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While volunteering at the hospital gave her the in-person perspective of what day-to-day life is like for medical professionals, she said that there were two roles that helped her truly understand what was important to her.
“The ones that I really think changed my view on health care were H.E.L.P. and Emergency Department Ambassador,” she says. The Hospital Elder Life Program, or H.E.L.P. is a new initiative at St. Luke’s seeking to pair volunteers with patients who may be at risk of delirium or dementia.
“Those patients struggle to find people to talk to,” Ramadugu said. “Loneliness and being bedridden can affect people’s ability to get better. Hospital staff can sometimes struggle with being able to provide emotional comfort while also taking care of health needs, so volunteers come in to take that part over and make sure patients are comfortable, so that staff can focus on care.” This is where Ramadugu really found her passion. “H.E.L.P. made me realize that while I love the medicine and anatomy and biology aspects of health care, I really love the opportunity to work with patients and empathize with them.”
Ramadugu’s empathetic outlook extends past the walls of St. Luke’s, as well. While attending Kennedy High School, she organized multiple volunteer efforts.
“I started this thing with some of my friends during the pandemic, called CR Bridging Gaps,” she said. “We were feeling very isolated, so we wanted to do something together to help people.”
It started with a children’s book collection drive for the Dental Health Clinic. Her group was able to collect more than 700 books for free distribution at Dental Health
“It was a very meaningful project because my partner and I love to read. Being able to provide kids that might not be able to get to the library with free books at the clinic was really meaningful to us,” she said.
Ramadugu’s group also organized another drive to collect art supplies for children at Waypoint’s Domestic Violence Victim Services program and coordinated a performance by the Kennedy High School Orchestra at the UnityPoint Hospice Center.
Ramadugu is now attending the University of Oklahoma majoring in Anthropology in Human Health and Biology, and her volunteer workload has only increased. She’s currently supporting staff and patients at three different health care institutions in Oklahoma City, while also serving on the Asian American Students Association Philanthropic Committee, the Medical Brigades and somehow also participating in extracurricular activities.
Where does she find the energy?
“I really enjoy everything I do. I find it empowering to help society in any way I can. My parents always say you should make your passion your career, so that’s what I’m doing,” she said.