April 6, 2022

Volunteer Spotlight: Sylwia Balata, 2021 Polish Interpreter of the Year

Sylwia Balata has been an outstanding volunteer at CommunityHealth for just about four years now! As a Polish interpreter and lab technician, she is deeply connected to both the patient and their care team. Sylwia was born in a city in Poland near the Ukrainian border and moved to Chicago while in elementary school. She attended Loyola University for undergrad and is currently taking a gap year. Outside of volunteering at CommunityHealth, Sylwia works as a patient care technician at an urgent care clinic, where she sees assists patients in their struggles with COVID cases, workers’ compensation, injuries, and a wide range of illnesses. She hopes to attend medical school, though she’s not sure yet about any specialties! (But she does really enjoy working in urgent care). We’re so happy to have Sylwia as a member of our community. Read all about her!


If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

Flying! I think it would be awesome to be able to fly anywhere (and not have to deal with traffic).


Outside of volunteering with CommunityHealth, how do you like to spend your free time?

I like arts and crafts. When I was younger, I would always draw different cartoon characters or scenes from books that I liked. Over time I learned how to paint using different types of paints (my favorite being gouache). During quarantine I learned how to crochet and knit and made yarn snowman ornaments for my friends and family.


What’s your favorite book or movie?

Some of my favorite authors are Manuel Puig, Dmitry Ghlukhovsky, Andrzej Sapkowski, Sayaka Murata, and Sylvia Plath. However, I don’t have a favorite book or movie.


What is something that not a lot of people know about you?

I started learning Russian in my last year of college.


If you could be one animal, what would you be and why?

Probably a penguin: they love the snow and are actually really athletic (plus, they wobble and fall and I can also be accident-prone).


What does your ideal vacation look like?

Having a road trip through several countries.


Why and how did you begin volunteering at CommunityHealth?

I learned about the opportunity through some classmates in college. Since I was always translating for my family growing up, I thought about giving CommunityHealth a shot. I ended up really enjoying my time volunteering; not only was I learning a lot about technical medical terms, I really felt like I was making a difference in the same community that I grew up in.


Do you remember your first day? What surprised you?

I still remember the first patients I interpreted for. They came in for a follow-up and I was super nervous before starting–it’s one thing to translate for my family or neighbors, but it’s another to translate for complete strangers. I was surprised by how kind everyone from the interpreters’ bench to the clinical room were. I didn’t feel like I was working or interpreting, rather I was a mediator in a conversation. More importantly, I saw how the clinicians were passionate about ensuring healthcare and this inspired me to continue volunteering.


What has kept you volunteering all this time?

Volunteering here made me more passionate about going into medicine. I really enjoy the environment at CommunityHealth: not only do I learn a lot from the physicians, clinical staff, other volunteers, and the patients, but I am surrounded by positive influences that always encourage me.


What has been your biggest takeaway from your time with CommunityHealth, and how does this impact your other life or career goals?

The providers at CommunityHealth don’t only help with healthcare: they introduce their patients to other resources. It is obvious that the physicians here really care about the overall wellbeing of their patients. I have become more aware of different kinds of barriers that patients may face and hope to use this awareness when working with patients from different populations and backgrounds.


Can you share an especially memorable moment working with a patient/fellow volunteer/staff member?

I remember starting out in the lab after the pandemic started. It had been a long time since I last drew blood. However, I still received tremendous support from the shift leader that I was working with. She was patient with me and in no time, I was back in the flow of working at the clinic, even when we had very large patient volumes.


What does being a healthcare professional mean to you?

Being a healthcare professional means supporting patients. To me, this definition is much broader than just providing medications or running tests. It also means supporting patients when they face other difficulties that may affect their health, such as their zip code or barriers that prevent regular doctor visits. An important facet of being supportive is being able to stand up for your patients, to encourage them, and to be with them every step of their journey.


Why is volunteering important to you? What do you get out of it?

Volunteering is important to me because I sympathize with many of the patients. I understand their struggles of being in a new place, often where your language is not spoken and your family or any other form of support is very far away. Growing up, I received a lot of social support from my teachers and neighbors, all of whom supported my journey through college and medical school applications. I was also able to pay it forward by helping out my neighbors, whether it be through translating for them or tutoring their kids. I think it’s important to support each other to build a better neighborhood and a better future.


What advice would you give to a new volunteer at CommunityHealth?

Volunteering here is an amazing opportunity. I understand that, at times (especially before your first shift), you’ll feel super nervous, but everyone is very friendly and supportive. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone here wants you to succeed (just ask Jazmin how many questions I have for her in a single lab tech shift 🙂).