Eighteen months ago, the Office of Endocrinology and Diabetes welcomed Rachel Walega to their team as a Clinical Research Project Manager. There, Rachel works on projects in Cystic Fibrosis related diabetes, Down syndrome and bone fragility. Rachel has her Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, as well as her Master of Science in Exercise Physiology from George Washington University in D.C. She has had a passion for volunteer work ever since she was young and continues to try and find ways to contribute to her community and the people around her.
Rachel's history of volunteering begins back in her undergraduate years, when she participated in Heroes Helping Hopkins. Rachel was a collegiate swimmer during her undergraduate years, so it was not until graduate school that she was able to really invest her time volunteering. She participated in numerous opportunities in the D.C. community, some of her favorites being various social justice organizations, shelters and Kids Enjoying Exercise Now (KEEN), an organization she wishes had a Philly branch. After completing her master's degree, she continued volunteering while she worked at the Children's National Hospital for the next five years.
Since joining CHOP in 2020, her first CHOP-organized opportunity was assisting a table outside of the South Philadelphia Health and Literacy Center. She aided community members in registering to vote or to apply for a mail-in ballot. Since then, Rachel has participated in numerous volunteer opportunities through CHOP, a few being prepping and packaging food with MANNA and Share Food Program and distributing children books with CHOP's Reach Out and Read. One of her favorite volunteer activities is delivering food items with Jewish Relief Agency (JRA), an organization that offers volunteer opportunities for people to package and deliver food boxes to families who are food insecure. She enjoyed JRA so much that she is now responsible for a monthly route in her neighborhood, Rittenhouse Square. Another one of her favorites is participating with the West Philadelphia Healthy Kids Running Series, coordinated by CHOP's Healthy Weight Program, which organizes running races for kids in the community focusing on the importance of exercise and child health. "The best thing is seeing kids of all ages and abilities giving their best effort around the field," says Rachel. Rachel believes that physical activity is extremely important for kids, and these types of programs make it fun and easy.
When asked if she would recommend these volunteer experiences to colleagues, she was certain she would. "Absolutely," she said. "You have the opportunity to chat and connect with colleagues that you're volunteering with and whoever else is there during the shifts, and the commitment is so easy and simple." The most unexpected benefit she's had from volunteering was during her shift at the Back to School Jam vaccine clinic, hosted by CHOP's Community COVID-19 Vaccination Program, where she saw a member of CHOP's executive leadership team there volunteering beside her. "It was the icing on the cake for all the people that I've met through volunteering," she said. Rachel was inspired by this encounter. "It's just awesome to know that it's everybody at CHOP that has the same goal and wants to contribute to the community and be a part of something bigger."
So why does Rachel do this? What motivates her to continue volunteering? "I love helping people. I want to be able to contribute, and help people move forward in whatever way I can." Rachel knew that while other people have special skills that allow them to do certain things within the community, she had a special skill of her own. "I moved here during the height of the pandemic, and I realized that I had a lot of time to contribute to my community. People have their own skills, I had time." CHOP is extremely grateful for the time she has put toward the betterment of her community.
While Rachel may be a pro at volunteering, she realizes that it might be difficult for others who are just starting to or wanting to get involved. Her advice for new volunteers is this: take a buddy! "Buddying up eliminates that barrier and fear of not knowing what to expect, where to go, how to get there, etc." Rachel would love for people to reach out to her, and she would be happy to be a buddy with anyone. She advises new volunteers to go into the opportunity with an open mind, be ready for anything and use your CHOP skills to translate over to your time with the community.
Thank you, Rachel, for all that you do for our community!