FARMINGTON — What started as volunteer work for one University of Maine at Farmington senior not only opened a door to a career but helps her deal with her mother’s sickness.

“The unique thing about Julie Sexton is she has taken the passion she has for something personal and turned it into a passion that will be her career,” said Maurice Martin, assistant professor of community health at UMF and Sexton’s class adviser.

Sexton, 22, of Manchester, settled in to work a part-time position in the Fund Development office at Franklin Memorial Hospital early Friday. She started as a volunteer, then a student intern. Funding is requested for a full-time position for her after she graduates in May.

Other students in Community Health classes are exposed to practical experience in a variety of places early in their studies, Martin said. A student can expect to volunteer 60 hours for that practical experience in schools, hospitals and health-care facilities. They then spend 600 hours as an intern in their field of interest, Martin said. There’s a lot of volunteer experience in every major health education class, some providing academic credit for the work.

For the young student unsure what they want to do, Sexton endorses that effort to get out and build relationships in the community. It wasn’t just her classwork but a desire to do something to help others that has kept her involved since her sophomore year.

“I really believe getting out and volunteering can help young adults like me find a working path that they will enjoy. Mine just happens to also help me cope with my mom having cancer,” she said.

Just days before her high school graduation, Sexton’s mother was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. That summer she went to chemotherapy treatments with her and realized how many people were there alone during the process.

“I’d strike up conversations with them. Even talking about little things put a smile on their face,” she said.

She also began to realize how expensive and how stressful the whole treatment process can be.

“It stuck in my mind,” she said.

With plans to major in business at UMF that first year, she realized she wasn’t happy and transferred to a Community Health major and business minor.

She wanted to do something, started to volunteer at FMH and was placed in the development office. She now works to develop programs that raise funds while getting health education out to the community.

A recent program held at Sugarloaf raised $173,000 for the Martha B. Webber Breast Care Center, she said. The funds will create an endowment to ensure the services of a patient support nurse to help people through cancer treatment.

Nine different large events and three annual appeals are organized by the department, Tom Hagerstrom, Fund Development director, said.

“The work can be challenging but rewarding,” Sexton said. “You never know if you’re going to love it till you become a part of it.”

The work has shaped her as a student and a professional, she said. Things brought up in class she’s often already done and it’s helped her in two specific areas, first, learning how to communicate with people and then figuring out where to go in life, she said.

“Sexton has the ability to talk with anybody, meet donors and deal with difficult situations,” Hagerstrom said. “She has a real good head on her shoulders.”

Four years later, her mother continues her struggle with cancer. Only last month, they learned it had spread to her lungs but Sexton is optimistic.

“She’s our warrior,” she said of her mother’s battle.

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