OCC graduate Leia Serlin returns to Israel to work with Israeli children needing cardiac care at the international nonprofit organization, Save a Child’s Heart.

A trip to Israel to attend a cousin’s wedding set the stage for a recent Oakland Community College graduate to ignite her own passions. Leia Serlin of West Bloomfield loved her experience in Israel so much that she vowed to go back and “do something good.”

Upon her return, she began researching multiple volunteer opportunities and landed on Save a Child’s Heart in Holon, Israel, about 20 minutes from Tel Aviv. The Israeli-based, international nonprofit organization’s mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children and train doctors to create centers of competence in developing countries. For many of these children, that includes the opportunity to receive life-changing surgery needed to repair an ailing heart.

In her heart, she knew she could wield the knowledge and experience she gained at OCC and improve outcomes for children who endure life-saving surgery in underdeveloped nations.

This summer, Serlin spent more than two weeks working with children to help allay their fears and boost their spirits before and after heart surgery as a live-in volunteer at Save a Child’s Heart children’s home. Her efforts were arduous as the children represented a variety of countries and spoke many different languages, making it necessary to use things like interpretive dance and art therapy to help children understand her message.

“I was working with children from Tanzania, Zanzibar and Kurdistan,” she said. “With the many language issues, I had to tap into things I learned in my art and psychology classes at OCC to help me communicate without words.”

Adapting to a different way of learning and communicating is something Serlin has experienced throughout her life as someone who has dyslexia.

She was introduced to OCC after thriving at Eton Academy in Birmingham. She enrolled in Oakland Early College and, ultimately, earned both an associate degree in general arts and another in science this past spring.

“I had a great experience at OCC,” she said. “They really provided me with a good education and many opportunities to get involved in campus activities.”

Those campus activities included participation in the Jewish Student Organization, serving as an OCC Student Ambassador and playing the role of Molly in OCC’s theater production of Peter and the Star Catcher.

Serlin is building on her academic experience and transferred to Albion College this fall to major in biochemistry and minor in kinesiology. She understands education will dominate much of her life in the next two years; yet she will balance her desire to help others with plans to volunteer again next summer with Save a Child’s Heart and continue her work for children in need.

“Many of the children are underdeveloped and frail due to their heart conditions, so they really need support and encouragement to get through their surgery,” she said.

“Staying with the children and helping raise their spirits was an incredible experience. I plan to stay longer next year so I can provide even more support for these brave children.”
As someone who has faced a personal challenge head-on and succeeded, Serlin is passionate about channeling her experience to help those who are less fortunate overcome their fears of surgery so they, too, can have a better life.

This story was issued by Oakland Community College.

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