It was just four years ago that Van Horn High School in Independence started its Health Occupations Students of America chapter.

The program has made some major strides. That was evident at the HOSA International Conference last month in Orlando, Fla. The Van Horn chapter was recognized as an Outstanding Chapter of the Year for the second consecutive year, and recent graduate Bryanna Counts received the Barbara James Silver Service award for her more than 200 hours volunteering in the medical field. Abigail Cruz and Alliyah Tripp won the bronze level service award.

“My students work hard throughout the year raising funds for charities, volunteering and job shadowing throughout the community as well as raising awareness for health conditions and diseases,” Van Horn HOSA sponsor Debbie Cox said. “Each day I am inspired by the dedication and effort I see from my students. It is remarkable to see Van Horn students take such an interest in the field of biomedical science and to watch them grow into future health professionals.”

The outstanding chapter award is presented to programs that do exemplary work in career awareness, community service, health business partnerships, job shadowing and leadership development.

Leah Cooper and Alliyah Tripp were the students who represented Van Horn at the international conference. They presented a portfolio of some of the activities their HOSA chapter did for their biomedical class and some of the volunteer work.

“If you go to internationals, and they give you a certain score on your book, they will recognize you,” Cooper said. “It contains pretty much everything that we have done.”

Some of those things include information of the Van Horn HOSA members, information on their annual biomed jamboree, in which eighth graders and freshmen come in and see if they are interested in joining the biomedical academy. The portfolio also contained information on volunteer work at the Maywood Terrace Living Center, in which the HOSA chapter participated every Saturday. The students totaled more than 1,300 hours of volunteer hours at nursing homes, hospitals and animal shelters. They also participated in job shadowing at Children’s Mercy, Centerpoint and North Kansas City Hospital

The chapter also had information it about STEMathon, in which students work on experiments in the school’s courtyard while freshmen and STEM academy members attend.

“We had a fundraiser, and we sold Crush soda cans for a dollar; we raised over $200,” Cooper said. “They were just tiny cans and we sold quite a bit of those. It was really cool.”

Tripp and Cooper also qualified for the Community Emergency Response Team competition after they finished third at the state level. It was the first time anyone from Van Horn qualified. They didn’t play at the international conference, but they still enjoyed the experience.

“You take a knowledge test and then a performance test,” said Cooper who also had the opportunity to attend leadership academies, career workshops and got to visit biomedical exhibits. We were given a scenario and had to act out how we would handle it. At state, the scenario was there was a tornado and we had to go into a room and there was a mannequin in there. And one person had to move the mannequin, whose leg was ‘injured,’ to the right place.”

The chapter has a website that displays some of the activities and volunteer work it did throughout the 2018-19 school year. You can view it at

Time for volunteering

For the past four years, Counts gave up a lot of her summer vacation and weekends away from school to volunteering at the Truman Medical Center, Children’s Mercy, nursing homes and so on.

She totaled more than 500 service hours during her high school career and has been recognized for it. She received the U.S. Volunteer Service Award for the second year in a row, was a recipient of the U.S. President Volunteer Silver Service Award from HOSA and was the Independence School District STEM academy student of the year.

At Truman Medical Center, she got to job shadow a radiologist and a gastroenterologist and she also volunteered her time to running the gift shop or answering phone calls the nurse’s desk.

“I brought people juice and water after their procedures,” Counts said. “I also ran samples to the lab. I also got to sit in the room during a surgery as long as the patient was OK with it.”

“I got to see the camera when they stuck a tube in the patient. I saw the inside of people, which I thought was really cool. That’s an experience a lot of high school students don’t get.”

When she was at Children’s Mercy, she worked at the gift shop for the majority of time, making gift baskets for patients. Sometimes, she also checked in on patients to make sure they had what they needed like toothpaste and deodorant.

“There was someone who came in (to the gift shop) and he didn’t even know this little girl,” Counts said. “This girl got into a really bad accident and was in a coma. He bought her all this amazing stuff like a stuffed animal.”

“He gave me a budget and had me create a basket that I thought a little girl would like. It was cool that I got to be creative and pick out cool stuff from the gift shop and blow up balloons. I put it a little basket and brought it up to. It was really nice to spread kindness.”

She enjoyed her time at Children’s Mercy and she hopes to work there sometime after she graduates at the University of Missouri. When she goes to college this fall, Counts hopes to find more volunteer opportunities.

“Helping people is important to me,” said Counts, who is majoring in biology. “I have a passion for it. I want to minor in nonprofit studies.

“I might volunteer at (University Hospital – MU Health Care) maybe, if that’s something I can get into. I’ve been in contact with my sponsors to see what cool volunteer opportunities are there.”