Volunteer Work Guided Co-Valedictorian at St. Francis to Career Path Caring for the Sick

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Catholic Education, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Katie Vasquez

After four years at St. Francis College, Zenovia Gonzalez has a lot to be proud of.

She graduated co-valedictorian of the class of 2024 and is a member of several honor societies including the Duns Scotus.

“That is the highest honor at St. Francis College. About 15 students per year get into it,” Gonzalez said. “And so that is just, that was a true honor to get in.”

The 21-year-old is heading to medical school on her way to becoming a doctor after interning in multiple emergency rooms.

“You never know what’s going to come through the doors,” Gonzalez said. “And I think that’s the most thrilling part of, you know, like you feel like you’re on fire when you step in because you have to find a diagnosis right away.”

But she says her dream to help others didn’t start in a hospital.

It began here at the Chateau at Brooklyn Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where she learned to see beyond a chart.

“I had no idea what these patients were going through. I don’t see their chart,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know what their diagnosis is, but I think that’s the beauty because you don’t treat patients as if they were a diagnosis.”

She first started volunteering here at 14 years old. Her main job is to help patients feel less lonely.

“They need someone to talk to and they need that support system that they may not have their family there all the time,” Gonzalez said.

It’s a medicine resident Maria Paige says is like no other.

“She was a wonderful volunteer,” Paige said. “And wherever she’s going now, she’s a credit to them. You know, and they’re all thoroughly wonderful. I have no… they’re family. This is my family.”

Diane Ryabo, the director of recreation and volunteer services, could see Gonzalez was different from past volunteers.

“She was just a go-getter, very creative, very compassionate, really cared about the elderly, and that’s rare,” Ryabo said. “She wasn’t afraid. A lot of people who start volunteering, they’re a little afraid sometimes and they don’t know what to expect. They get nervous and that wasn’t the case. You know, she just really loved all the patients and adapted so easy where departments were fighting over who was going to have her in their department.”

Gonzalez feels her time here will make her a better doctor.

“In those stages where patients are vulnerable, like it’s their last stages of life, they want someone to talk to,” she said. “I think that really kind of molded my experience to want to keep going and doing medicine and hoping that I could be there for someone’s last stages of life.”

As Gonzalez prepares for her next stage of life, medical school at SUNY Downstate, she knows she got an even higher education in Brooklyn.

If you would like to volunteer at the center as well, you can call the Chateau at Brooklyn Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at 718-535-5100.