The Ultimate Volunteer

Blue Star Mother’s Flag

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post.  This blog is actually a project highlighting my professional work for the conclusion of my Master’s Degree Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Maybe this will be my last post, maybe I will continue to blog.  But, I cannot potentially end my blogging about volunteerism without mention the ultimate volunteers…the servicemen and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.

My brother and his wife will leave shortly for the war zone in the Middle East.  This is my brother’s third tour, the first two he served in Tikrit and Baghdad, Iraq at 19 and 24 years old.  Sure, he is paid by the government, but he has volunteered to put his life on the line to promote freedom and liberty abroad.

The sacrifices are many.  He leaves behind his 10 year old stepson, who will go a school year without his parents.  My aging parents, who live across the country from where my brother is stationed, have anxiety and concern when my brother is abroad.  He is afforded the opportunity to return home on occasion, but with the responsibilities for his own family that has proven difficult.

Where he is headed is extremely dangerous.  Although his first trip to Iraq, he was stationed in the home town of Sadaam Hussein when the dictator was executed and put to rest there.  This tour, his safety is much more at risk.  I am unable to mention his duties due to his security clearance and for his safety, but we are all very concerned for him much more this time around.

However, he is not concerned.  He is eager to return to that part of the world and promote freedom for people who have lived without it.  He anticipates joining his fellow soldiers and supporting them in their duties while he counts on them.  With his sacrifice of his family at home, he is comforted by the family included in an entire division of soldiers.

My brother is a volunteer.  He is a veteran following the footsteps of my father and grandfather who served in the Vietnam conflict and World War II.  We do not live in a country that conscripts young people into service.  Our military is supported by the brave youth who take a stand and raise their hand to volunteer.  For whatever their reasons are, they still do it.

When my brother returned from Iraq the first time, my sister and I flew to Hawaii, where he was stationed.  We met many of his friends who he served with.  I was amazed at how many of these young soldiers were of little financial means and many times familial support.  My brother had the opportunity to attend college and choose another path, but he chose the Army.  For many of his cohorts, the military is the best opportunity for them.  It provides structure and a means to survive.   I think of these young soldiers and the sacrifices they make while people like me and my sisters sit at home in California and enjoy our carefree lives.

If you know a soldier who is deployed, write a note, send an email, and let them know you are thinking of them.  My mom emails soldiers who serve with my brother who do not have ANY family support AT ALL.  Volunteer for the Wounded Warrior Project and affiliated events in your area.  Volunteer for an organization that supports the families that are left behind.  Thank a veteran for their service.  Pray to God that they all come home safely.

Please share a story about your favorite soldier or veteran.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Operation Homefront

Wounded Warrior Project

Sacramento Blue Star Moms


Using Grief as an Inspiration to Help Others

One of the sweetest people I have ever met is Mary Stansell.  Mary was a coworker who worked in a respite care program for elderly people with memory loss, from Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.  Mary did not just work her 8am to 5pm shift.  She left her house at 6am to drive across town to pick up a few of the program participants whose loved one was having trouble getting to the program.  On the weekends, she provided free respite care in her home for some families who were struggling.  At the end of the day, if a family caregiver was late leaving work, she would wait, on her own time, until they arrived and not charge the late fee.  And she never complained.

See, Mary is a tough cookie.  She left her southern home on a Greyhound bus.  With the clothes she could fit in her suitcase, along with her gun, and her four young children.  She escaped violence and fear for hope and peace in California.  Along the way, she met and married the love of her life, Charles.  He was an intelligent, educated man, who she loved with all of her heart.  They enjoyed dancing, laughing, loving, and living life together.  Then one day, Charles was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and the slow, declining abilities and memory loss would follow.

But it was not Mary’s way to grieve over it.  And, in the plan for her husband’s care as time and the disease progresses, she was determined to be his primary caregiver.  She would do whatever she had to do to care for him.  So, she found work in a respite care program where Charles could attend.  She was able to keep him close while she was at work. 

She learned everything she could about the disease, and used her knowledge to help other families dealing with memory loss of a loved one.  She consoled the wife whose husband no longer recognized her face.  The son who feared his father had forgotten a wife and mother who had passed.  The daughter whose mother forgot more each day.  The caregivers who arduously provide care to a loved one in addition to working a full-time job.  Mary did these things outside of her work.  On her own time.  She lived the disease.  She loved those who fell victim to it, and she fought in the trenches alongside those who knew her pain. 

Grief from trauma, whether it is after the passing of a loved one from a terminal illness, abuse, neglect, or other experience, a great healer is volunteering to help those who are where you have been.  Some of the best and most effective volunteers are those who can empathize with people in the trenches today.  You know their fear, their hopes, their sadness, and most importantly their needs.  

We all have experienced trauma…loss of a loved one to terminal illness, aging, or accident.  Some have experienced bad childhoods, disabilities, academic struggles, and more.  Find an organization that serves a need for those today where you have been before. 

Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Alzheimer’s Association

Full Circle 

Good Grief Center – 20 Tips for Bereavement Support

Why Advocacy Counts and Makes a Difference

IF ONE MORE IGNORANT PERSON tells me that they have a cure for Type1 Diabetes, I am really going to scream!!! While shopping, I was discussing health and wellness with a holistic healer.  For whatever reason, when I mentioned my brother engages in a wellness regimen to manage his illness, she told me that there was a cure!  When I said, “he is TYPE1 – Insulin Dependent, NOT Type2,” she assured me I was wrong and that he really does not need insulin but diet and exercise.  AS IF I do not know what I am talking about, having personally dealt with the disease for 10 years.

In an earlier post, When a Cause Hits Home – Volunteering with a Personal Purpose, I described my brother’s struggle with Type1 Diabetes.  An autoimmune disease, his life DEPENDS on daily doses of insulin and blood sugar measurements through finger sticks.  His pancreas DOES NOT function.  He did not acquire diabetes through diet or any behavior of his own.  Doctors, meaning Endocrinologists, believe that an environmental trigger stopped his pancreas from working, and he was genetically predisposed to Type1.  He has never been obese or overweight, in fact, at 6’0, he struggles to maintain a weight over 140 lbs.  Anyone who would suggest he STOP using insulin very ignorant about the disease. 

Sadly, this is not the first person to tell me that my Type1 brother does not need insulin to survive. Maybe these people would like to see what happened when he had a bad batch of insulin. He ended up in ICU for 5 days and nearly died. 

My rant has a point.  Advocacy and education about YOUR cause is vital to the public receiving information about the issue at hand.  Potential donors, volunteers, and supporters MUST know the FACTS and MYTHS about issues, such as Type1.  Otherwise, they will not understand the urgency families are experiencing as everyday 80 more people are diagnosed with this life threatening disease.   Everything on the outside seems fine, but inside the lives of these families there is struggle, fear, depression, anxiety, and a glimmer of hope…that one day…their loved one will be cured.  

Advocating and educating the public and other stakeholders does not mean you have to march on Washington and storm the state house.  It can be as simple as making a YouTube video about your personal experience, writing a guest blog for an organization working on your cause, sharing information through social media contacts to raise awareness, and correcting ignorant people whose suggestions could harm a loved one, should you follow the advice.

JDRF, the leading organization fighting for a cure for Type1 has done a great job in encouraging families to share their personal experiences with the disease on YouTube.  In turn, these videos are shared on Twitter and other social media platforms.  These experiences are personal, inspire others to action, and provide a face for the disease.  You can make a difference through advocacy and education for your cause.  Get involved today!

How are you advocating for YOUR cause?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!


Diabetes Mine

American Diabetes Association