A woman standing in a room smiling. In front of her is a table with a red and yellow clown toy.
Pasic, who is graduating from VCU in May, works as the family room coordinator for Ronald McDonald House at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2023: Nejla Pasic’s drive to help others leads to position at Ronald McDonald House

“If I was able to put a small smile on somebody's face, that was enough for me for that single day,” Pasic said.

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Nejla Pasic’s desire to help others was sparked by her family. Pasic’s parents and older sister immigrated to the U.S. in August 2000 to escape the Bosnian genocide. Her parents made the move to give their family a better life.

“My dad always [told] me to be a good person, my mom always taught me to do good things for other people – so that's where I feel like the idea of me wanting to help others as a career kind of originated from,” Pasic said.

Pasic is graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in May with a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and exercise science with a concentration in health science and a minor in psychology. She has already begun using her skills to help the community, interning at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond Family Room at Children’s Hospital of Richmond. Pasic said she was the first person to serve the role of senior in-house intern. And that internship led to a job.

After interning from May to August last year, Pasic was offered a position as the family room weekend coordinator. She said she performs many of the same duties in the position, but now has the additional responsibility of being a person others go to for answers and solutions. She applied for the summer internship because she already had previous clinical experience at St. Joseph's Villa and loved working with nonprofits. Her internship with Ronald McDonald House served as her senior capstone clinical experience.

“I think that nonprofits have really great missions and visions and values. The things that each and every one of them do might be a little different, but the main idea of it is just to help others, help those that are in need,” Pasic said.

She received financial support for her internship from the VCU Internship Funding Program. Pasic used the money for transportation, supplies related to her internship, and business attire.

“It really did help a lot because I didn't have much professional attire and using that money to help me with that was really rewarding,” she said.

As the senior in-house intern, Pasic helped make the lives of patients at the family room more comfortable by making them coffee, doing laundry, helping coordinate sleep rooms for families that needed them, and simply offering them a friendly place to be.

“Whether it was just them coming in to talk to us or just spending some time alone, we were there for them,” Pasic said.

Dayna Cobb, the family room manager at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, was Pasic’s supervisor and mentor during the internship. She said Pasic worked the night shift, ensuring that families had a safe space to retreat to during the late hours.

“Just being able to come in and get a cup of coffee and a quick snack was just such a huge help to them at a very stressful time,” Cobb said.

Cobb said Pasic’s care was evident in all her work. The manager said she’d arrive in the room in the morning with the snacks organized and everything in its right spot. She said those sorts of details make a space more inviting to families.

“When I would come back the next day, I would have families come up and tell me how kind she was, how she smiled at them, or she just put them at ease,” Cobb said.

Pasic said the most rewarding part of her work is seeing people smile and knowing she helped improve their day.

“It's tough to be in the hospital with your child there going through procedures or treatments or whatever it may be,” Pasic said. “If I was able to put a small smile on somebody's face, that was enough for me for that single day.”

Pasic said that Cobb has been a role model for her and represents “everything that I want to be.”

“Every single time I see her, I get very excited and I learn a lot from her within just those small moments that I spend with her,” Pasic said.

Cobb said Pasic has acted as an extension of herself, and she has trusted Pasic to take care of the family room and patients as she would.

“And I know that she was able to do these duties with utmost compassion and professionalism,” Cobb said.