John Hengesbaugh smiles broadly and asks, “Have you ever heard of the word mudita?” Pronounced moo-dee-tah, the word is Sanskrit. He says, “My mom taught me that word and basically it means ‘your happiness,’ ‘gives me happiness.’”
That’s just one reason the cheerful 24-year-old with Down syndrome volunteers at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. A volunteer since 2013, he’s learned it’s better to give than to receive.
“When people tell me thank you for volunteering, I feel happy and grateful, like I’m making a difference. And that makes me happy,” he says.
Hengesbaugh is one of several volunteers who arrange and deliver flowers to patient rooms in the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit. Patients who have experienced a debilitating illness or injury come here to recover and regain their physical strength and independence — two characteristics Hengesbaugh embodies.
While attending Grossmont High School, he learned the art of flower arranging through a program called Flower Power. Now every Wednesday, he sorts through roses, hydrangeas, sunflowers and dozens of other buds donated by a nearby market. The piles of flowers are clipped, placed in donated vases and transformed into stunning bouquets on par with professional arrangements.
According to Linda Van Fulpen, manager of volunteer services at Sharp, the colorful blooms brighten up patient rooms and are a welcome sight. “Patients who don’t have family or friends to visit them during their stay are particularly grateful for the flowers,” she says.
Passionate about flower arranging, Hengesbaugh’s love for flowers is partly inspired by his grandmother, Nancy Saylor, who when alive, tended to her own rose garden. He aspires to have his own flower business someday; working at the hospital arranging bouquets allows him to give back and puts him closer to his goal.
“If I want something and I fail, I’m like a boomerang. I just circle around and don’t give up. I keep coming,” he says.
“John’s an amazing young man, and we feel honored to have him as part of our volunteer team. He’s an inspiration to all of us,” Van Fulpen adds.
Hengesbaugh’s other passions are singing and acting. He participates in a community theater group called Arms Wide Open. Recently, he put his mind to and landed the lead role of Danny Zuko in a production of Grease.
“I learned from the character Danny Zuko to stop trying to be cool and just be yourself,” he says. He’s also had parts in Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Wizard of Oz.
Indeed, Hengesbaugh’s biggest role is being himself — a flower arranger extraordinaire delivering smiles to patients. “Flowers are magical. I love their color and their beauty. They make me feel good and they make other people feel good too.”
For the media: To talk with John Hengesbaugh about his volunteer work at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858-499-3052.