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Volunteers and Pink Slips

As part of Assignment Detroit, is working with 11 high school students from the Detroit area. They come from all walks of life, from suburban prep schools to city schools both strong and weak. The project will illustrate the Detroit region from their point of view—what it's like to live there now, and whether the area has a place in their future or not. Today's post is from Dan Dou, a junior at Grosse Pointe South High School in suburban Detroit.

Last month, I e-mailed the local Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, Mich., about being a volunteer. Several friends at my high school had done this and, since I am considering a major in medicine, I wanted to try it. I was accepted.

After setting up an orientation with the hospital's student program coordinator, I got an e-mail saying the appointment had been rescheduled due to "unforeseen circumstances." When I went to the hospital's Web site to get a reference form, it wasn't there. Instead, I found a page saying that student volunteering had been suspended until further notice. So, I e-mailed the coordinator. A form e-mail came back telling me that someone would be in touch.

Someone from the hospital called and rescheduled the orientation. That's where we were told the student coordinator had been laid off and that the hospital would not be accepting any more volunteers. Beaumont Head of Volunteer Services Beth Frydlewicz said that the hospital system had been forced to reorganize its volunteer program, eliminating four student program coordinators to cut payroll and refocus resources.

Like many Michigan businesses, the hospital is having budget problems. Beaumont's CEO has said the hospital is seeing more people who don't have adequate insurance or who are on Medicaid and Medicare. There is a credit crunch. And patients are delaying elective surgery, which brings in money.

So, construction projects have been delayed, hundreds have been laid off and the hospital has stopped accepting student volunteers. I am one of the last two high school students allowed to volunteer. I have told the people at Beaumont that I would like to work in the emergency room, but college students usually do that. It sounds like I may be assigned to a post called "a patient escort." I don't have my start date yet. But feel lucky that I got in.

As companies throughout metropolitan Detroit, and across the country, cut costs, opportunities for high schoolers to gain experience are being restricted. Losing the chance to volunteer is just an inconvenience compared to the pain of having a paid job vanish. But my near-miss shows how Detroit's turmoil is beginning to affect the lives of many, from city-dwellers to suburbanites, from the young to the old.

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