By Tina Underwood
Even if Furman University student Barrett Taylor had not undergone 12 surgeries and procedures over her 21-year span of life, she’d likely still have a soft spot for volunteerism and children. Having gone through hospitalizations for brain surgery, thyroid problems, ear tubes, adenoids and more, she’s that much more attuned to the experience of children faced with hospital stays.
Her experience is part of the reason she volunteers with Heller Service Corps and why the elementary education major serves as student director.
One of her favorite Heller projects is preparing stuffed animals that greet children upon being admitted to Prisma Health’s Children’s Hospital.
It’s a simple activity—removing scarves and tags from a thousand new donated plush toys to make them safe for the kids. But that’s the point, Taylor said.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time to do something that will have a lasting impact on a child,” she said. “I think Furman students might feel nervous about the time commitment for volunteering, which makes complete sense. But we make it so easy and inclusive. Just walk in, no need to fill out an application, just find a cool project and start.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, major events like the Fall Festival have been shelved. The event typically draws 600 children from underserved areas to campus for a day filled with games, carnival food and fun.
With the resources at Heller, the goal this year is to reach children in other ways, like making crafts for kids at Children’s Hospital and packaging crayons they can take home once they are discharged. “We are doing smaller, more intimate projects,” Taylor explained. “Every Thursday, we do a pop-up event where we write cards of appreciation for our public-school teachers, firefighters and others.”
Taylor said the smaller, more manageable volunteer projects are meaningful not only for the children, but also for Furman students. “I think the Furman bubble is very real,” Taylor said.
Doing something that doesn’t take a lot of time—whether it’s writing a quick note of thanks to the maintenance or custodial staff on campus or making encouragement bracelets for hospitalized children—gives students a chance to step back from classes and exams and focus on things outside of Furman.
Taking an active role in the larger community is important, Taylor said. She grew up in Greenville and is a product of the county’s public schools, so she’s happy that Heller gives her a chance to give back to the community that gave so much to her.
For project inspiration, Taylor doesn’t need to go far. “There’s no one like Nancy Cooper,” she said of Heller Service Corps’ coordinator of volunteer services.
Known for her perfectly coiffed blond hair and eternal smile, Cooper has made an impression on Taylor and other volunteers at Heller.
“She’s one of those people you meet once in a lifetime, and you remember them for the rest of your life,” Taylor says. “She thinks so deeply about the world around her, and she also thinks about how we can have the most impact on Greenville as we possibly can.”
This year, with students returning home before Thanksgiving break, the traditional Holiday Giving Tree has become the Blessings Tree. Paper leaves on six trees throughout campus contain wish list items from various local agencies. Everyone on campus is invited to take a leaf from the tree, purchase the item and drop it off at the Heller office in Trone Student Center.
On top of the campus community-donated gifts, Heller has received $5,000 from an anonymous donor to purchase items for the agencies. Heller volunteers will distribute gifts before the break.
This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Furman University website.