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Congratulations, Erika!

BALTIMORE — A youth volunteer at the VA Maryland Health Care System, Ericka O’Brien, 16, of North East and a student at Rising Sun High School, received the James H. Parke Memorial Fund Summer Youth Scholarship Award for 2020.

Adaugo F. Emerson, 17, of Baltimore, also received the award. Each of the youth volunteers will receive $500 to use toward tuition, books, supplies, room and board or other educational needs.

“We are proud of Adaugo and Ericka, who have demonstrated outstanding commitment in their roles as volunteers at the Loch Raven and Perry Point VA Medical Centers, respectively,” said Susan Kern, program manager for Voluntary Service for the VA Maryland Health Care System. “We hope that their achievements will inspire others to participate in our robust summer youth volunteer program.”

Adaugo, a senior at Eastern Technical High School during her volunteer stint, fostered meaningful relationships with both veterans and staff members at the Loch Raven VA Medical Center. As a volunteer, she demonstrated patience, a determination to excel and a positive attitude that enabled her to adapt to any situation. Adaugo’s daily check-in with veteran patients help to uplift their spirits and her natural leadership skills set an example for other youth volunteers.

“Adaugo believed that volunteering afforded her a unique opportunity to positively influence the lives of veterans,” said Rachel A.C. Kalfoglou, a voluntary service specialist at the Loch Raven VA Medical Center who nominated her for the award. “Veteran patients would become visibly happier in her presence.”

Ericka, a junior at Rising Sun High School during her voluntary service, proved invaluable in transporting veteran patients to and from their Occupational Therapy sessions at the Perry Point VA Medical Center. As a summer youth speech pathology volunteer, Ericka independently created a memory book for the speech pathologists at Perry Point, which served as a guide in working with individual patients. The memory book contained patient preferences, treatment plans and progress updates, and this was just one of the many initiatives she worked on to help both veteran patients and staff members.

“Ericka took the lead in programming the augmentative communication system that speech pathologists use in working with non-verbal patients,” said Joyce Kuwae, a voluntary service specialist at the Perry Point VA Medical Center who nominated her for the award. “The system is challenging, but Ericka quickly figured it out and was able to program the pictures and symbols into the system so that it could be used immediately.”

Established in 1976 after the first Director of Voluntary Service for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the founding father of the Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee, the James H. Park Memorial Fund Summer Youth Scholarship Award seeks to recognize outstanding students who serve as part of VA’s Summer Youth Volunteer Program. Each VA medical center throughout the country may nominate one student volunteer for the award, as long as they have completed 100 hours of service as a VA volunteer during the calendar year.

The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at three medical centers and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a veteran can do. To enroll for VA health care, interested veterans can call 877-222-8387 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or they can visit and clinic on “Apply now for VA health care.”

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