Student’s internship much more than just a summer job

When her father passed away from leukemia, Elizabeth Girard ’17 and her family found themselves utilizing the care and support of Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley.

Four years later and working as a Hospice intern, she is now the one giving care and support to those who are losing the lives of a loved one.

“Every summer since my father passed, I’ve been wondering ‘can I do it this time?’” said Elizabeth, a senior at St. Lawrence University from Gouverneur, New York. “Finally, it seemed to work this summer, and it’s been an incredible experience that I didn’t think I’d be mentally and emotionally strong enough to handle.”

Elizabeth received two summer fellowships from St. Lawrence University this year. The first was the Richard Carlson Career Services Internship Fellowship, which provided her with a salary to intern at Hospice. The second was a Tanner Fellowship, which encourages students to make a positive and creative mark on the world. The fellowship was created in 1995 by the friends and family of Tanner Cornwell.

As part of her internship, Elizabeth accompanies social workers on visits to homes and nursing homes of those receiving Hospice care. But, as a psychology and music double major who is interested in eco-therapy, she also wanted to do something special on the grounds of the agency’s main facility on Route 11 between Canton and Potsdam, a special place that helped her and her family through their difficult experience.

So, Elizabeth proposed a plan to Kellie Hitchman, Hospice’s director of development and community relations, and Mary Jones, director of family support services, to improve an existing trail on Hospice’s grounds and create a spiritual walk for counselors and families utilizing Hospice’s services.

“It all culminated under the realm of positive psychology and eco-psychology,” she said. “There’s a lot of research in how green spaces have a positive impact in health fields, and those were ideas that I thought needed to be used (at Hospice).”

She spent the first part of her internship researching what types of interventions she wanted to use, and she talked to the staff about what they’d like to see. Then, she made a timeline and secured volunteers from Clarkson’s physician assistant’s program. And, when she got a quote from J&J Groundworks Inc., in Canton, they told her they also wanted to donate their equipment and labor to the project.

“I wanted to implement some of the things I learned in my Positive Psychology course,” she said, “and I wanted to include things that would bring a little more life to the trail. I wanted to use what I’ve learned to hopefully offer some substance to others who would use this trail.”

With the financial support from Hospice, the Tanner Fellowship and the volunteer efforts, the Brian Gardam Tranquility Trail now forms a short loop in the woods just behind the Hospice building, with features, including benches, flowers and a labyrinth, which has become the trail’s main focal feature.

“We are thrilled with the ideas Elizabeth formulated and brought to fruition,” Jones said. “It has added tremendously to the trail and will assist many community members as they navigate their grief.”  

She is also creating a podcast, which will be launched with Hospice’s new website. The podcast, something she learned how to do as a part of her music major, will incorporate meditative techniques with different interventions she has learned in several of her classes.

For Elizabeth, the project was just as much a function of her internship as much as it was the chance to evaluate her own grieving process.

“I’ve realized that my experience has helped me develop a genuine desire to support and care for others who are also experiencing loss,” she said. “With the loss of my dad, I thought I’d be entering this internship with a weakness. But to my surprise, it turned out to be my strength.”