Northside Hospital - Northside ‘Volunteen’ Earns Girl Scouts’ Highest Honor

Northside ‘Volunteen’ Earns Girl Scouts’ Highest Honor

Posted on: November 24, 2014


Northside Hospital recently played a key role in helping a local student earn the Girl Scouts’ highest honor, the Gold Award. Working with the nursing staff at Northside, Sarah Schurr, a member of Girl Scout troop #1261 in Norcross and a senior at Greater Atlanta Christian School, developed Talk To Me, a project to help caregivers increase communication and interaction with elderly patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s or social detachment.

The Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting.  According to the Girl Scouts, the prestigious award challenges girls to change the world, or at least their corner of it through a “Take Action” project.  The project must address a national and/or global issue and produce impact that is measurable and sustainable.

Sarah’s project came about in 2013, while she participated in the Northside Hospital Auxiliary’s summer “Volunteen” program, which offers high-school students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience working in the medical field.  Sarah was one of the first volunteens paired with the hospital’s Patient Access Liaisons (PALs), a special partnership between the Auxiliary and the NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) team.

NICHE is the only national designation indicating a hospital's commitment to elder care excellence.  Northside received NICHE designation in December 2012 and works with a team of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians , case managers and quality improvement specialists on strategies to improve quality of care for older adults.

Sarah’s training taught her about the sensory changes that affect older adults, how they struggle to come to terms with their newfound physical limitations, and how these limitations and changes can lead to social detachment or isolation.  Sarah learned techniques to increase their communication and interaction with caregivers. At home, Sarah’s grandmother also was beginning to show signs of dementia.

“I became more curious about issues surrounding the elderly and eager to share helpful information with my family so that we could better assist my grandmother,” said Sarah.

Through her project, Sarah created sensory mats and treasure boxes that hold a variety of items to help caregivers sooth and engage patients. Because of the overwhelming community support she received, Sarah was able to create 14 sensory mats and 50 treasure boxes, an informational booklet, and a website ( to hold all of her research and instructions on how others can create and customize their own materials.

Materials were donated to Northside Hospital and three local assisted living facilities.  At Northside, the items are being used with medical, surgical and oncology patients across the hospital.

“We loved Sarah’s work and dedication to the older adult population,” said Cristiane Fukuda RN, MSN, ANP-BC, PMC, med-surg clinical specialist, Northside Hospital.  “Sarah is a very bright young girl with a great future ahead of her and we, as Northside family, are proud to have been part of her growth.”

“The most amazing thing to me has been what has come out of this for Sarah and for her to have these opportunities,” said Cynthia Schurr, Sarah’s mom and Girl Scout leader.  Sarah has been asked to speak about her project to staff at local assisted living facilities and was invited by Northside to help train new volunteers for the hospital’s PALS program.

Although Sarah has already been notified that she is a Gold Award recipient, she will be formally recognized for her accomplishment at the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta’s annual Gold Award reception in February 2015.

Read more about Sarah’s Talk to Me Gold Award project.

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