November 30, 2022
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Student volunteer connects with individuals with traumatic brain injuries

Francheska Gomez has been volunteering at Compassionate Care of Central New York, building relationships with individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Francheska Gomez has been volunteering at Compassionate Care of Central New York, building relationships with individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Francheska Gomez has been volunteering at Compassionate Care of Central New York, building relationships with individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Image Credit: Vivian Mueller.

When Francheska Gomez ‘22 came to Binghamton University, she wasn’t sure if she would end up pursuing a psychology degree. Now she plans to make it her life’s work to help those with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), thanks in part to her experience volunteering with this population at Compassionate Care of Central New York (CCCNY).

CCCNY, based in Endicott, N.Y., serves people with TBIs in part through what they refer to as an “unstructured” Structured Day Program. The focus is on building relationships and promoting socialization among participants in a relaxed environment. The day program is tailored to the participants’ interests and is influenced by their ideas and suggestions. The organization’s overarching mission, driven by its CEO and founder’s experience as the mother of a daughter with a TBI, is to help individuals with TBIs live dignified, independent lives. Volunteers like Gomez focus on promoting community integration and socialization.

Gomez started volunteering at CCCNY in February 2022 and instantly fell in love with her role as a volunteer and the sense of community within the organization, but she stumbled across the position by accident. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Binghamton in May 2022, she decided to stay at the University for another year to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, through the University’s Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) program.

“When I was applying to the accelerated nursing program, I wanted to have more experience before entering it, so I was looking to get into any clinical setting,” Gomez said. “I went to the Center for Civic Engagement’s (CCE) website, and they had the impactBING CORE [Community Opportunities for Real Engagement] listings there. I saw a Red Cross listing at first, and was really interested in that.”

Melinda Thomas, the community engagement graduate assistant at the CCE, oversees the impactBING CORE program and saw that Gomez had reached out to the Red Cross to inquire about volunteering. When she checked in with Gomez and learned that the Red Cross option hadn’t worked out, Thomas suggested the volunteer opportunity at CCCNY as an alternate health-related experience.

“I felt welcomed as soon as I walked in,” Gomez said, “so it was easy for me to continue going and to build relationships with the participants there. Then the connections that I built with people made me want to stay and connect with them more.”

Jeffrey Winner, the CCCNY program director, said Gomez is a great example of an ideal volunteer at the organization, using all aspects of her background to make genuine connections with participants.

“She has a background in psychology and working with diverse populations,” Winner said. “Even though predominantly everyone in our program has a traumatic brain injury, not all traumatic brain injuries are the same. She’s been able to adapt and adopt certain styles based on group dynamics, or in one-on-one situations. That’s a skill that you either have or you don’t have.”

Gomez, a Bronx native, has also used her knowledge of downstate New York and New York City to connect with participants who were originally from there, discussing train routes and places like Coney Island with them.

Winner said that the other Binghamton students who have volunteered with CCCNY have all brought something unique to the program, coupled with the drive they have when volunteering.

“The commitment from the students has been awesome,” he said. “Their communication with me as a point person has been great too. We’ve had some really great self-starters this semester.”

According to Winner, it is Gomez’s unique ability to build rapport with the participants that enables her to make genuine connections with them.

“Most of the people who are there just want somebody to listen to them and engage in conversation with them,” Gomez said. “They go there every day, so they all spend time with each other. I [volunteer] twice a week, so when I’m there, they always have new updates and things to share with me. A lot of the participants were very excited to hear that [I was staying at Binghamton for another year], so I definitely plan on sticking around at CCCNY.”