Mentoring program alum ready for career in nursing

Seven years ago, PeaceHealth’s Sr. Barbara Haase took a chance on a 16-year-old boy named Ben Lunn.

He wasn’t the first at-risk kid she’d taken under her wing, nor would he be the last. Sometimes they disappointed her—though she knew her Youth Mentorship Program asked a lot of its young participants.

But from the start Sr. Barbara saw something in Ben—a seriousness of mind, an ingrained work ethic and a strong spirit—that gave her confidence.

He proved her right and made her proud. In June, Ben will graduate from Lane Community College’s rigorous nursing program with a 3.86 GPA, eager and ready to land a rewarding, well-paying job in a growing field. He has his fingers crossed he’ll be hired for a starting post in the Intensive Care Unit at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend.

“Nursing is amazing,” says Ben, who graduated from South Eugene High School in 2006 and has supported himself nearly since then as a part-time technician in Sacred Heart’s Sterile Processing Department.

Ben, 23, gives a lot of credit to Sr. Barbara’s now-ended mentorship program for steering him straight, and for introducing him to a field ripe with opportunities.

“I was kind of going down a rough road and needed some guidance,” he says.

The year before he applied to the program, he’d been living in Springfield with his mother and brother. His brother was in real trouble, and Ben himself was struggling in school and running with a rough crowd. The chaos was taking a toll on the whole family. Ben, who had recently enrolled at South Eugene, left home, initially moving in with a girlfriend and then renting a room in a quad near the University of Oregon campus.

It was a South Eugene counselor who suggested Ben apply for the PeaceHealth program, which began in 1998 and continued for 10 years. Sr. Barbara worked with school counselors to select two students from each of the five Eugene high schools, often choosing kids who struggled financially or lacked direction, and had potential to benefit from the two-year program in a way their more advantaged peers might not.

The students were assigned to a department and a mentor within the organization, earning minimum wage for their work. One-third of their earnings went into an interest-bearing scholarship fund, which PeaceHealth matched once participants completed the program. During the school year, students could work up to 10 hours a week; during breaks and in summer, they could up that to 20.

“They were treated like any other employee,” Sr. Barbara says—expected to report on time, stay on task and complete the work they were assigned.

Some dropped out before their two years were up, but not Ben. He needed the money, enjoyed the work and wanted to gain all he could from the experience.

“He was a really good worker,” recalls his mentor, Chuck Hall, an Audio-Visual Technician in the Facilities Department. “He was very intelligent. He was always ready to help in any way that he could, and he was quick about learning things. He would absorb anything I put in front of him. And he had a lot of interest in what was going on here.”

At that time, Chuck’s office was in the basement of the Support Services Building at the University District campus. He was part of the BioMedical unit, which dealt with upkeep and repair of a huge variety of medical and other equipment. Ben worked on various kinds of equipment and systems, including the nurse call systems in patient rooms. He learned how to work with cables and wires, and changed a lot of light bulbs.

Sr. Barbara kept her eye on him, mostly from afar. When she found out he was struggling to cover the food budget of a hungry teenage boy, she started sending him $20 bills each month, with a note the first time that said “From someone who believes in you.” It was only when he graduated from the program that he learned where the money had come from.

Though his direct work wasn’t exactly medical, Ben learned a lot and grew intrigued through his interactions with the hospital’s many different departments. It was Chuck who first suggested he consider working in the medical field.

“I told him how steady I felt the medical field was as far as work,” Chuck says. “I told him there’s lot of different things you can go into.”

Chuck also told Ben he should check out Sterile Processing, which required a three-month course at LCC, as a way to make ends meet through nursing school.

Ben says working in the ICU has long appealed to him, with its intense pace and need for snap decisions.

“I like that it’s so critical—the most critical it could be,” he says. “There’s a lot of excitement in being part of a team that saves someone’s life.”

Ben is one of several program alumni who either haven’t left or eventually returned to PeaceHealth. Adam Woldt, who also mentored with Chuck Hall, is a Materials Specialist in the Emergency Department at RiverBend.

Andrea McGarvey, who was part of the Youth Mentoring Program’s inaugural class back in 1998, was Executive Assistant to Chief Operating Officer Jill Hoggard Green until recently accepting the position of Project/Systems Coordinator for Nursing Administration.

Andrea was a sophomore at Churchill High School when the school-to-work coordinator told her about the program. Though she had a more stable home life than Ben, Andrea, too, says she was something of a “troubled youth” at the time.

“I was smart, but definitely not on the path to success,” says Andrea, 30, who is married with a 2-year-old daughter. “I didn’t have any direction.”

She worked under Laurel Smith in the Human Resources Department, and quickly discovered her love and talent for organizing and managing the myriad systems of a large organization. When her stint in the program ended, she landed a full-time job as a Patient Access Specialist in Behavioral Health and also enrolled at Lane Community College. In 2006, she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Care Administration at Northwest Christian University.

She says she surely wouldn’t have been hired at PeaceHealth, and probably wouldn’t have gone to college, if it weren’t for the mentoring program.

“I think it just gave me structure,” Andrea says. “It gave me self-esteem and confidence.”

Other alumni have gone on to jobs in the medical field, including Jeremy Arnold, who became a physician in Massachusetts.

Sr. Barbara, who works in Public Affairs as Coordinator of Access Initiatives, says she’s pleased the experience made a difference for so many of the 100-some participants, and was sorry to see it end when the economic downturn forced cuts across the organization. But she’s quick to note that lending young people a helping hand—and possibly sparking an interest in giving back to others as caregivers—isn’t PeaceHealth’s primary mission, despite its value.

“Our main mission is the care of people who are sick and injured,” she says.