When Paula Marie was a young girl, she would unwittingly upset her mother by telling her she was moving to California the minute she turned 18 years old. Now she’s 19 and on the verge of moving out of her family home in Guilford to an apartment in Brattleboro, and that might end up being far enough.
“I can grow into myself and still be doing things that make a difference in this area,” says Paula, clasping her knee to her chest. “You can make things to do.”
Making things to do has never been a problem for Paula. Babysitting gigs became opportunities to get kids involved in creative projects. Teaching her self to play the piano and sing was not just an outlet for songwriting and performing, but also a vehicle for staging concerts that raised money for local charities. Even her current job working in the kitchen at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is a chance to reach out and interact with patients in a meaningful way.
“They want to talk about something other than their illness. They’ll be there for a few weeks and I won’t see any family or visitors. You can tell when they really want to talk to you,” she says. “Even though I deliver trays and I wash dishes I can be a part of that sick person’s day that doesn’t completely suck.”
Paula’s job at the hospital helps her pay for classes at the Community College of Vermont. She initially focused on early education thinking she would follow the same path as her mother, who teaches in Greenfield. But special education courses focused on integrating autistic children into mainstream classrooms eventually captured her interest.
“Being a teacher you’re obviously helping kids but it’s more rewarding being one-on-one rather than being one-on-twenty,” says Paula. “One of my teachers referred to it as being someone’s Jiminy Cricket, and I like that so I use that all the time.”
Paula isn’t overly concerned with how long it will take before she gets to play Jiminy Cricket. She knows what she wants to accomplish and understands it will be worth the time and money she puts into her goal. In the meantime, she continues to look at the big picture impact of even the smallest gestures, including giving back to the hospital by making a financial contribution to the patients with limited or no health insurance.
“Growing up my parents didn’t really have a great insurance plan. I watched them struggle. My family had some health issues that had come up. Even for just regular check-ups I watched them stress out all the time because we had this insurance plan that would cover your pinky and not your thumb,” recalls Paula. “So that’s why I chose to donate to the program for people that don’t have good insurance. I thought that was really noble and I could relate to it.”
Paula says the in-person appeal from BMH’s Development Office inspired her to make the contribution. If she had just received a memo in her mailbox, she admits she may not have given it as much thought. She sees that approach as the best way to entice other hospital employees and young people to do the same.
“If they thought of the hospital is a symbol of a community and something that everyone in the community needs at one point or another, maybe they would feel compelled to help out,” says Paula. “Just do little things to help someone and you feel good about yourself.”