Through volunteering at Arkansas Heart Hospital over the past few months, 13-year-old Joi Hood has learned a lot about herself.
Hood was born with a heart defect and had heart surgery when she was four months old. The surgery left a scar on her chest, which she says has always made her self-conscious. But, meeting other heart patients through her volunteer work and hearing their stories has made her more comfortable with the scar, she says.
The experience has also helped her better understand what she went through as a baby, and what her mom, Janet Hood, also a heart patient, has experienced. Meeting patients and “giving back” to those that have helped her and her family are what she says she has enjoyed most about volunteering.
“I’ve learned no matter who you are or if you had heart surgery, you can still achieve anything,” Joi Hood says. “You’re helping others while learning yourself.”
Hood’s volunteer work has put her one step closer to achieving the Girl Scout Silver Award, which requires a service project. She says serving the Heart Hospital was her first choice, and she hopes to complete the required 50 volunteer service hours by the end of the month.
The Silver Award is the highest level a Girl Scout Cadette (grades 6-8) can earn. Hood, an eighth-grader at Dunbar Gifted and Talented International Studies Middle School in Little Rock, says, by ninth grade, she hopes to reach the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest level for grades 9-12.
“Joi is a great picture of someone who not only wants to serve, she wants to make a difference,” says Vickie Wingfield, Arkansas Heart Hospital community relations director. “Joi has a story to share. Her story is an encouragement to other young people with congenital heart defects or any kind of chronic health issue to find a place to get involved and live life to the fullest.”
Hood has spent many Saturdays and part of her holiday break helping out at the hospital’s events and stuffing envelopes. She also shadowed Shannon Hendrix, Heart Hospital director of nutrition services, where she says she learned “why it’s important to keep your heart healthy and eat healthy foods.”
Hood says giving back to the community is important to her and plans to continue volunteering throughout her life. When she grows up, she says she wants to be a computer technician, dancer or teacher, and her favorite school subjects are English and computers. In addition to school and community service, she also does ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop at Little Rock School of Dance. In May, her dance team will compete at Disney World in Florida.
Janet Hood says volunteering at Arkansas Heart Hospital has been a “wonderful experience” for her daughter and she’s proud of Joi’s dedication.
“I love what the experience has given her,” Janet Hood says. “She sees what she’s gone through, and it’s made her grow.”
Established in 1997, Arkansas Heart Hospital is a nationally recognized and award-winning hospital dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease serving over 20,000 patients per year throughout the state. Arkansas Heart Hospital was the first heart hospital in Arkansas and only the second in the nation when it was established. For more information about volunteering at the hospital, visit www.arheart.com.