Mercy and HOPE

Written by: 
Jim Rogers
Katie Woodard ("05 TAMS) (Courtesy of Katie Woodard)

Katie Woodard ('05 TAMS) didn't just get college credit through UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. She also found a sense of community and volunteerism that inspired her to dedicate the past two years of her life to the HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) centers of Mercy Ships. The international organization provides hospital services to people in impoverished countries.

"I grew a lot as a person while at TAMS, which made me who I am and led me to serve with Mercy Ships," says Woodard, who earned her B.B.A. from Texas Tech. "I was involved with TAMS' coincidentally named volunteering club HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere). I remember going to a nursing home to play games and to schools to tutor kids."

Woodard continued volunteering through disaster relief and religious organizations before joining Mercy Ships, which screens people for health issues and provides surgeries aboard its ships. When a ship makes anchor, volunteers like Woodard set up a HOPE center on land to register patients and provide a place for non-local patients to stay.

Woodard was first stationed at the center in Benin, Africa, and then was a lead facilitator in Cameroon, where she did everything from ordering supplies to coordinating patient travel and working with nutritionists.

"My absolute favorite part of the job was working with babies to get them big enough for cleft-lip or cleft-palate surgery," Woodard says. "We became very close to them and their amazing mamas, who have to do a lot of work to get their babies healthy."

This year, the center housed anywhere from 70 to 260 patients on a given day.

"It's always sad to say goodbye to patients and know you will probably never see them again," says Woodard, who completed her service in August. "But it was so wonderful. People transformed before our eyes. We gave them hope."