• Children's Center

    In the Loop: Volunteering with pediatric patients makes researcher’s heart feel full

medical researcher Merrick Ducharme sitting on the floor in the Children's Center playroom with a pediatric patient playing with toys

Merrick Ducharme's Thursday mornings as a volunteer at Mayo Clinic Children's Center are never the same, but one thing is consistent: his appreciation for what he learns from the kids.

It's 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and Merrick Ducharme is up to his elbows (OK, his wrists) in slime. The gooey, gluey mixture is not one Ducharme, a research assistant at Mayo Clinic, concocts in the pulmonary lab where he spends most of his day. Instead, he's mixing up the medicine at Mayo Clinic Children's Center, where he volunteers each Thursday morning. "I try to make the kids forget they're in the hospital," Ducharme tells us. "I try to make them smile."

Ducharme prepared for his research position at Carleton College, where he majored in biology. But he prepared for his volunteer position at home, where giving back was part of the Ducharme family game plan. "Our parents taught us about giving," he says. "They talked a lot about sharing your gifts." The family even started a charity together — Thanksgiving in a Bag — after noticing that a food shelf where they volunteered was low on supplies around the holiday. After creating a flyer listing items needed for a Thanksgiving meal, they distributed the fliers and encouraged people to fill a bag with the items and donate them to a food shelf. "We handed them out at church, school and to our sports teams," Ducharme says. More than 10 years after launching, Thanksgiving in a Bag is still going strong. "There have been thousands of pounds of food collected and distributed," Ducharme says.

After Ducharme told a colleague about Thanksgiving in a Bag, she told him about her experiences as a volunteer in Mayo's pediatric center. Then she encouraged him to volunteer there, too. It was an easy sell. Not only does Ducharme have a big heart, he tells us he's a big kid at heart. "I've always loved little kids," he says. "Playing with kids is an easy way to volunteer."

Read the rest of Merrick's story.

This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog.