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Compassion and Action

With assembly line precision, a large group of GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) students measured, poured, and weighed dry ingredients — soy, vitamin powder, dehydrated vegetables, long-grain rice — into plastic bags for Nourishment Now. As they sealed the bags and packed them into cardboard boxes for shipping, some students adjusted their plastic gloves and hairnets and smiled, bonding over the camaraderie of volunteerism.

“Know [that] what you’re doing today is going to have a lasting impact,” said Romi Bhatia, co-founder of Nourishment Now, which distributes nutritious food to those in need. “It’s going to help families in the Washington, D.C. metro area, which is great.”

As part of the annual SMHS Community Service Day, first- and second-year M.D. program students, as well as doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students, split into shifts to volunteer with a variety of organizations: the aforementioned Nourishment Now, Operation Smile, Best Buddies, the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health, and the Audubon Naturalist Society.

“We spend a lot of time studying and working, and I think it’s important to take a step back and engage with the community we’re going to be serving in a couple of years,” said Community Service Day co-chair Robyn Frankel, a second-year medical student.

That engagement included packaging a total of 45,360 non-perishable meals, which will be sent to the Capital Area Food Bank for distribution to local food banks and homeless shelters. Students also painted murals — including one fashioned after Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night” — for Operation Smile, an international medical charity that provides free surgeries for children and young adults with cleft lips, cleft palates, and facial deformities.

“I’m glad for the opportunity [to volunteer to paint murals for Operation Smile],” said DPT student Ashley Wahl, as she dabbed red paint onto the outline of a flower. “We have a lot of service opportunities but not a lot of time in our program, as I’m sure the medicine students feel as well, so it’s nice that we have something so local that’s so easy to access.”

Earlier that day in the GW Smith Center gym, another group of students gathered to paint, though their medium was ceramic piggy banks — and robot and turtle banks — rather than cloth murals. As Kiersten Snyder, a first-year medical student, and Jessica Morgenstern, a second-year medical student, explained, preparing the banks as gifts for the children undergoing clinical trials at the Children’s Inn took on additional value: it was therapeutic.

“It is really relaxing,” said Snyder. “We just had our first exam yesterday.”

“Everybody’s first exam,” said Morgenstern, “and the second years just had their first exam yesterday.”

Meanwhile, another group of students participated in park preservation and clean-up activities at the Audubon Naturalist Society, and a third paired with people with disabilities for Best Buddies. As Frankel explained, students and their partners completed Ambassador Training, where both the students and their partners learned how to be ambassadors for those with disabilities. At the end of the session, the Best Buddies partners presented speeches, which ranged in topic from Special Olympics experiences to the pop culture value of cartoon favorite Alvin and the Chipmunks.

“I think [volunteering with Best Buddies] is something not a lot of people take the time to step out of their comfort zone to do, so it was really nice to take that extra step and bring this to people’s doorstep so they can see the impact that they’re making in people’s lives,” said Frankel. “It’s pretty meaningful.”

Want to see more? Photos from the event are available on Facebook.