By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury — Shrewsbury High School senior Kacie Conant has always known that she wanted to be a nurse.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Conant hasn’t been able to volunteer at UMass Memorial Medical Center as she usually does.
Recently, she found a way to stay involved by getting creative and reaching out to the hospital’s Office of Philanthropy.
Conant has raised over $4,000 for pediatric mental health — nearly triple an initial goal, she set.
“I’m so incredibly grateful,” Conant said in a recent interview with the Community Advocate. “I know the money isn’t going to me, but it feels like all of these people are supporting me and we all agree that this is a problem. We’re all working together to help these kids because they need it.”
Volunteering as an intro to nursing
Starting the fall of her junior year in high school, Conant began volunteering in the UMass Memorial endoscopy clinic, wanting to experience a hospital environment.
It was Conant’s job to make beds, restock supplies, wheel patients to their rides after procedures, and bring patients snacks and drinks while they were in the hospital.
“I’m really a hands-on person,” Conant said. “So, I really liked how [I was] constantly moving and helping the patients.”
She described her volunteer experience as “eye-opening.” It helped her realize that she wanted to get to know her patients.
While her mother, Jill, who is a physical therapist, swears that she did not influence Kacie’s decision to also pursue a medical career, she loves seeing her daughter’s passion.
“It’s going to be a great profession for her,” Jill said.
Helping during COVID-19
When Conant reached out to see if she could get involved with fundraising at UMass, last year, a staff member told her that the hospital had seen an increase in emergency pediatric mental health cases.
This didn’t surprise Conant.
“We’re going through a pandemic,” she said.” School isn’t the same. You’re not seeing all of your friends in school or even out of school.
She elaborated, saying, “It didn’t really surprise me that much, but it made me so sad to know that it’s actually happening. I just wanted to do anything I could to help these kids.”
Directing money towards Squishmallow plush toys
In the past, even before the pandemic, hospital staff had handed out plush toys called Squishmallows. Patients loved them and could use them as pillows, staff told Kacie.
Knowing COVID-19 had only further restricted visitation opportunities for people receiving inpatient care, Conant jumped on the idea of buying those pillows in bulk.
“I can’t imagine being there alone sometimes, already suffering, and then you’re alone,” she said. “To let them have a Squishmallow would bring them the comfort that they need to just keep on going so that they can eventually get better.”
Conant set an initial goal to raise $1,500. That would have helped at least 100 patients get a plush toy. She and her mother shared the fundraiser on their social media pages, though, and ended up raising $4,370 as of March 19.
The fundraiser is still ongoing, today.
“Never did I dream that she would raise the money that she raised for it in such a short time,” Jill Conant said. “But I think a lot of people could relate to what’s going on with these kids, and everyone wants to support the cause and bring some sort of happiness to these children who are suffering right now.”
Jill Conant said hospital staff plan to distribute Squishmallows in phases, starting at Easter.