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


Volunteering for Public Awareness

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”  Benjamin Franklin

DARTIn effort to escape the triple degree heat this weekend, my family and I made a trip east from our Placer County, California home and spent a day at Lake Tahoe.  My toddler, who cannot yet swim, was equipped in her pink and gray life jacket while my husband and I were right by her side.  As we are in the midst of summer, there were dozens of boats out on the lake and many children passengers.   More kids were swimming in the lake, including youngsters under 5 that could not yet swim.  I was astonished to realize that my child was one of only a handful of children wearing a life vest.

To many, it may seem that I am overreacting.  But having grown up near two major rivers and a big fat lake, I have seen the all-volunteer Sacramento DART (Drowning and Accident Rescue Team) vessels searching for drowning victims more times than I can possibly count.  Just this spring, my husband and I were cycling around Lake Natoma, when we had to stop for a series of emergency vehicles crossing the bike path to a lake access area.  We saw DART vehicles and immediately knew a swimmer was lost.  A young adult, Lisa, was standing by until her 23 year old fiancée was found in the lake.  Without a life jacket, he unknowingly attempted to swim across a cold, deep, section of the lake to an island.  Due to the cold water shock, and physical exhaustion, he succumbed and was recovered several hours later in water 30 feet deep.  Perhaps a life jacket could have saved his life.

In the state of California, the law requires children under 13 to wear a life jacket unless they are in an enclosed cabin or under deck.  Several agencies, including many local fire departments provide FREE lifejacket rentals for people of all ages.  Perhaps many people do not know the dangers of drowning, and others are not aware of the life jacket program.  Raising public awareness, by volunteering with a nonprofit or public agency, is where YOU can make a difference.

Whether it is water safety, public safety, or any other issue affecting your community, get involved and make a difference.  Volunteers support nonprofits and public agencies by providing public outreach that they lack the resources to provide.  For example, DART utilizes volunteers to raise public awareness about water safety and education by making presentations to K-12 school students or attending large events with a large public audience.  Volunteers with special skills to coordinate operations are also needed, including open water divers, accountants, grocery clerks, security guards, and many more.

YOU can make a difference by volunteering to provide an ounce of prevention in YOUR community, through an agency or organization that is central to a cause you are interested in.  Choosing an issue you are passionate about is imperative to maximizing your experience, as shared in my earlier post, “Find YOUR Passion and Volunteer.”

How are you making a difference through public awareness?  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Sacramento DART

American Heart Association

CERT – Community Emergency Response Teams

Volunteer FD

Child Abuse Prevention Council

Never Underestimate the Power of Gratitude

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James

Being grateful for a kind word, an act of kindness, or a recipient of service is one thing.  Expressing gratitude to the messenger, Samaritan, or volunteer is certainly another.  While volunteers make a difference in the lives of others, recipients can make a difference in the lives of the volunteer simply by saying “Thank You.”  I have learned to never underestimate the power of gratitude.

In “7 Ways to Appreciate Your Volunteers,” Christopher Bautista of Volunteer Match shares how investing your time to recognize volunteers has great benefits in retention and recruitment.

One of the most powerful volunteer retention tools is gratitude.  While the intrinsic value of impacting the lives of others is important, this benefit is only maximized by the sincere, expressed, demonstration of gratitude.  Expressions of gratitude might include saying “Thank you,” during the volunteer activity, providing lunch or snacks, sending a handwritten note after the activity, recognizing volunteers at a special event, or other similar action.

However, showing gratitude begins with providing a rewarding volunteer activity.  Appreciating a volunteer includes recognizing that their time is valuable and could just as easily been spent with another organization or relaxing with a daiquiri on the beach.  Ensuring that eager hands are not idle is imperative. You never want your volunteers to be without a value-added task.  All volunteer work should be of great value directly related to the project or organizational mission.  If this is not clear, the value should be expressed to the volunteer so that he/she knows how they are making a difference.

While working for a government agency, I did not have a significant budget for volunteer recognition.  I had thousands of volunteers, so, I had to be creative.  My volunteer projects always included some type of food, often donated, whether it was breakfast burritos, pizza, hot chocolate, or snacks.  Project introductions included thanking volunteers for coming and a detailed description of how their service specifically made a difference to those we were assisting.  I continuously checked in with volunteers, thanked them for their service, and asked if there was anything they needed.  At the end of the project, I again thanked volunteers and reiterated what value their service added to our recipients and to the organization overall.  Post project, I sent thank you letters to each individual volunteer and group, including a memento specific to their group, and detailed their work in our newsletter.  Several of my volunteers were later recipients of awards from the Mayor of our city and the Governor of California.

Saying “Thank You,” is not enough.  Demonstrating gratitude through the volunteer activity and understanding of value added through the work, as well as our words and actions is invaluable.  When you do this effectively, many volunteers will thank YOU for the opportunity to make a difference through your organization and return again to join in the work.

How do you show gratitude to your volunteers?  Leave a comment. Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Volunteer Match Engaging Volunteers Blog

Points of Light Foundation – Recognition

California Volunteers