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

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Microvolunteering – Evolution of the One-Time Volunteer Project

Community Service Blitz - Adopt a Senior Project Volunteers

Community Service Blitz – Adopt a Senior Project Volunteers

When I started my first full-time job after college, I managed a neighborhood based volunteer program for a local government entity.  The purpose of the program was to help neighbors organize in groups to offer assistance to elderly neighbors.  Early on, this program required an ongoing time commitment by neighborhood volunteers.

Although I had experience recruiting and coordinating volunteers on political campaigns, the nature of the service was short-term.  Not to mention, I was not an ongoing volunteer, because my sister and I enjoyed volunteering in a variety of one-time volunteer projects for multiple organizations.  In spite of this, I did not understand the needs, interests, and time commitments of my potential volunteers.  I was asking others to do what I was not committed to do myself.  As a result, I probably lost the opportunity for several months to utilize available human capital in making a difference in our community.

When a colleague and I decided to launch a joint project between our programs, this changed everything.  We launched the “Adopt-A-Senior” program in 2002, featuring one-time projects for at-risk teens to serve seniors.  For the first project, we painted the home of a grandmother who was raising three young grandchildren alone.  This was the first of many to follow.

As soon as my newsletter featuring the project was distributed, I received an influx of phone calls and emails from individuals and service groups interested in getting involved.  So, I offered two types of volunteer opportunities, the ongoing effort and the one-time projects.  By far, the one-time project was the most popular and successful.  Thousands of volunteers each year participated in these events, and many returned for our seasonal projects or for events designed for a specific volunteer group.  I lead one of the most successful, awarded, reported, and popular programs in the entire organization.

This one-time project idea was not welcome by all.  I had one hell of a time trying to convince my supervisor of its merits.  Although it was clear, by volunteer participation numbers, that the one-time project was in demand, I was criticized for the exposure of the one-time project and not the ongoing effort.  This is a classic case in the industry to consider what you THINK is best rather than what IS best.  People are extremely busy with work, family, and other commitments, so rewarding their desire to volunteer is important.  Making it fun and rewarding is even better, it is a win-win.

Listening and responding to the needs and interests of volunteers and how THEIR time and skills fits into the need of your organization will maximize the use of human capital for your organization. Doing so will increase volunteer retention and recruitment.  Your volunteer pool will expand and diversify.  Service hours will increase.  Even if your program DEPENDS on ongoing volunteers, find needs that can be fulfilled on a one-time basis.  If you are a nonprofit, I guarantee you will find a need.

If you are seeking volunteer opportunities, join those organizations who are interested in YOUR volunteer objectives.  There are many opportunities available with great organizations that will value your service and maximize your objectives.

What one-time projects are you participating in?  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Volunteermatch – 101 Volunteer Recruitment Secrets

Points of Light Foundation – Volunteering 20 Minutes at a Time

09.24.2008 – Fighting Cancer for Those Who Cannot

betty2

Betty Seise, My “Second Mom”

Once in a lifetime someone makes a difference in your life.  I do not mean my parents, or my husband, my childhood best friend, or even my child.  Someone who takes an interest in your well-being for no reason except that they really give a crap about your future.  That was my mentor, and “second mom,” Betty Seise.

When I was a teenager, I worked as Betty’s assistant for a company where she was the Controller.  She guided and directed me through school, life decisions, and choosing a future.  She supported me when I was right, told me the truth when I was wrong, and encouraged me to the light when it was dark.  After her career advanced and I went on to college, Betty remained close by.  She was always interested in what I was doing with my life.  When I graduated from school, she told me, “The world is your oyster,” and I was inspired by that.

Betty was a champ.  She had her shares of ups and downs, but she was a self-made woman, a mom, a daughter, a wife, a leader, and a self-proclaimed life-long student.  She was charitable, helped others, and when you told her something you knew she was listening.

So, you can imagine my response when in the summer of 2008 I found out that she had cancer.  Stage 4, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact.  I began researching everything I could find on the disease, and found that 5 in 10 people go into remission post chemotherapy and radiation.  I was 100% confident she would be okay.  After all, Betty was a fighter. 51 years old, in impeccable shape, a healthy eater, and a holistic healer.  She was educated and well-read, so if anyone had a chance for survival…it was her.

Over the next ten weeks, the updates on Betty’s health were up and down.  Due to the cancer in her lymph nodes, large amounts of lymph fluid accumulated in her abdomen and under her arms.  Doctors had to surgically extract 1.8 liters here, 1.5 liters there, and it was excruciatingly painful for her.  She had to maintain iron levels in order to receive the chemotherapy treatments that were imperative to her survival.  She spent days in the hospital, lost a great deal of weight, could not eat, could hardly sleep, and eventually could not talk.  One day, her condition improved.  We had hope!  Then on a Monday night, I received the news that she was again hospitalized and was not expected to make it.

09.24.2008 is the day that Betty, my mentor, my second-mom, lost her battle to cancer.  And I started the fight.  4 months and 1 day before I was married.  Two years and one week before my daughter was born.  One day before her son turned 22.  One year before her oldest son earned his Master’s Degree.  And my life, like many others, has never been the same.

Betty is not the only one.  We all know somebody who has won, lost, or is still fighting the battle.  There is something that we can do to help.  All organizations that provide prevention to support for Cancer patients and their families need volunteers.  In fact, many rely on volunteer support to serve those in need.  Contact any hospital, cancer treatment center, hospice, American Cancer Society, or Leukemia and Lymphoma society and find out how you can help.  Or, volunteer to be a bone marrow donor. ALL of these organizations need volunteers, so JOIN THE FIGHT!

How are you volunteering to fight cancer?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

American Cancer Society

Delete Blood Cancer – Bone Marrow Registry

Hospice Foundation of America

UC Davis Hospice Volunteer Program

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

When a Cause Hits Home – Volunteering with a Personal Purpose

When my brother AJ was a teenager, he wanted to buy a new guitar. Not just ANY guitar, an expensive one.  He counted the earnings from his part-time job, earned money doing odd jobs, and still came up short.  When all else failed, he suggested selling his pancreas on the black market!  That may sound hubris and odd to anyone who is NOT a teenager, or Type 1, but his pancreas does not work.  See, he has Type 1 Diabetes, and only a cure will make the difference.

Today, AJ turns 25 years old.  When he was diagnosed with T1D in 2003, experts believed there would be a cure by the time he was in his late 20s.  Now that he is officially at the midpoint, and there is not a cure in sight, fighting harder is my family’s only choice.

Ten years ago, AJ, an eagle scout, was at camp for a week in the wilderness.  On the second day, he became violently ill while replenishing his fluids with Gatorade.  By Saturday morning, when he came home, he had physically dropped over 20 lbs.  YES, 20 lbs.  In the middle of the night, he was so sick and his heart was beating so hard that he told my parents he thought he was dying.  Living in the country, they rushed him to the hospital.  Upon arrival he had lost vision and could not walk on his own.  When his blood sugar was 800 mg/dL (normal is 90-130mg/dL0) and his blood pressure was severe, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  At 5’8, he was 88 lbs.

That was the beginning. His week-long stay in ICU included IVs, needle sticks, finger pokes, blood sugar measuring, and a completely new eating lifestyle.  As a teenager, his active endocrine system produced emotional highs and lows while coping with the physical effects of T1D as well as the emotional impact.  While getting his blood sugar under control, he would become very sick for hours.  If his sugar was low in the morning, he would not wake up…which extended the time he had gone without eating and compounded the problem.  He had to find his way to manage the disease and live like a teenager.  The worst part of it however, was the realization that his dream of becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy was now not possible.

My dream is that researchers will find a cure for T1D before it is too late for AJ’s kidneys and heart.  My great great grandmother died from T1D in 1913, when not a lot was known about the disease, so we have come a long way.  One of my favorite nonprofits, JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) sponsors events all over the world to raise money for researching a cure.  My local chapter has volunteer opportunities in my area, from working in their office or on an event to serving on the board and soliciting donations.  And there are many more ways ANYONE can make a difference.

Are YOU supporting a cause close to your heart?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the World…Volunteer!

Thank you, Shannon Nordmeyer for sharing your personal video about T1D!

JDRF

JDRF – Northern California Inland Chapter

JDRF Volunteer – Get Involved

JDRF NorCal – Get Involved

JDFR NorNV – Get Involved

Empower Youth through Meaningful Service Learning

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth.  It makes all things alive and significant,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Love, First Essays.

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

Over the years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with many youth in my community through service learning.  Typically coordinated in group projects over a period of time, youth learn about a concept in the classroom or service club, identify an issue or need in the community, then develop a service solution to mitigate the problem.  My projects connected youth with actual needs of real neighbors, and included K-12 students, at-risk high school students, honors programs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Faith-Based groups, and even college students.

One of my most meaningful experiences included a year-long service learning engagement with high school students.  The group was a Public Services Small Learning Community at a high risk school that was termed “Bloodbank,” when I was in high school.   This campus is very diverse, including several languages spoken at home and is troubled by a high degree of gang activity.  It also boasts one of the most robust Navy JROTC programs in the state that helps students stay out of trouble and attend college.

A student lead committee determined that a lot of elderly people lived in the neighborhood and students voted to focus on serving local senior citizens.  The older neighborhood included areas that were 60 to 80% residents 65+ years, so this was a real application of demographics evident to students.  The group chose a series of projects relative to issues learned in class, such as disaster preparedness, home safety, and First Aid.  Two projects of note included making disaster kits for vulnerable elderly neighbors and a “Senior Ball,” for a low-income senior apartment complex.

For the disaster kits, the youth collected emergency items recommended by FEMA, assembled kits, and made home deliveries.  This included writing down contact information for family members, listing any necessary medications, and identifying a specific “go to” location in case of evacuation.  I was inspired by the passion of these students acting as stewards for the elderly, and it was apparent they KNEW they made a difference.  And of course, the seniors loved the youth attention.

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

The “Senior Ball” was the culminating event for a year-long adoption of a low-income senior complex.  A variety of projects throughout the year focused on these seniors, and students chose to end the year with a dance.  The students created the entire night, and I was there to watch the show.  The youth solicited donations for all materials and planned the itinerary. It was endearing to watch the kids dancing with older people who came alone.  But the real reward was to listen to the passion expressed in their reflections realizing they had the power to make a difference in the lives of others.  They were alive and very much…significant.

Service learning is a wonderful opportunity to empower youth to make a difference through service.  The links below provide additional resources on how YOU can make a difference through service learning.

Please leave a comment and share your experiences with service learning.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

What is Service Learning? – National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network – Effective Strategies Service Learning

Heifer International – Service Learning and Fundraising Programs