Teen puts experience as patient to work for others
By Dwain Hebda
Shelby Shields is an ordinary teenager; a bright, active 17-year- old who’s just beginning to think about life after Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock. More immediate matters, though, are the junior’s lifelong love affair with dance, her spot on the Rockettes dance squad at school and maintaining her straight-A average. But in other ways, Shelby is very unlike most kids her age. Born with scoliosis, she was fitted for a back brace when she was just a year old. Though she’s nonchalant about living with her condition, by the time she was halfway through her freshman year in high school, it was discovered she required surgery.
And it has been in the aftermath of that procedure, successfully completed in spring 2014, that makes Shelby one in a million, devoting hours of her time to others as a volunteer at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. “I’ve been through what other patients are going through,” she says. “My case isn’t as bad as others, but I still know what they’re going through with the doctors and all that. I chose Children’s because I wanted to give back to them, because they’ve done a lot for me.”
Shelby devotes weeks in the summertime to special hospital programs as well as the occasional day off from school. Her activity has ranged from managing the art cart—a mobile studio where she helps take young patients’ minds off of their conditions for a bit—to helping to run a fitness camp for kids over the summer to promote play and health and healing through physical activity.
The activity dovetails nicely with Mount St. Mary’s community service requirements, but that’s not what keeps her coming back to serve patients. She does, however, share the school’s belief that getting young people involved in community service is a very important part of their development as a person. “I think it’s good for young people to be involved because I think that it’s good that we start young to help make a place like Children’s better,” she says. “When we get older, our kids and other young people who follow in our footsteps will have a good place like Children’s when they need it.”
Shelby’s influence on the hospital stretches farther than crayons and summer camp. Following her surgery, she was invited to apply for a seat on the hospital’s Youth Advisory Committee. She serves among board members who, like herself, are patients or siblings of patients, ages 14 to 18. “I really wanted to do YAC to give my voice for other people in the hospital,” she says. “I wanted to offer my input and help other patients. Last year, we had a party for some of the patients. Just seeing how happy they were made me happy, seeing the people that I help and how I can make their day better.”
In addition to her work at the hospital and on YAC, Shelby also gives of her time through the Angels of Hope Program with the 20th Century Club at school, another means to visit hospitals and volunteer for the group’s lodge for cancer patients. Through her parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, she tutors underprivileged children and serves on the advisory team for the youth ministry program.
Shelby comes to her volunteerism naturally, having watched her parents, David and Kay, stay involved in the community at the family’s church and at various school events for Shelby and her sister, Mary Agnes, a freshman at Mount St. Mary. Kay Shields sees the family’s activities as a sort of faith in action, a living thank you for helping bring Shelby through her illness. “She makes me very proud, she’s a good kid and she’s been through a lot,” Kay says. “But in going to the doctor, we’ve always said our problems could be a lot worse. And we always pray and say thank God that it’s not, but you also want to pray for those who do have something worse.
“So, one of those things that we say a lot is much is given to us, so much is expected. If we’re able to, we need to give something back, if we have the opportunity to help out with school or with Children’s or whatever. If you have an opportunity to do something good, do it not only for yourself but for others.” In fact, Shelby believes so strongly in the power of volunteerism, she’s got a ready answer for any excuse or hesitancy her peers can come up with when it comes to giving of their time.
“I say do it,” she says. “The special project program does not meet that often and you don’t have to be with a patient, you can do stuff around the hospital that still helps out the patients. I think there’s many ways you can still volunteer with a busy schedule or even if you’re not comfortable dealing directly with patients.”