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

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

Mentors Bridge the Gap for Youth

Picture1There are not many causes that pull my heart strings more than those about children…the most innocent of victims in poor circumstances.  They have the most to lose and the least with which to fight.    Mentors are working every day to bridge the gap for children in crisis or at-risk of crisis.  Mentors teach youth skills to achieve their life goals and live productive, fulfilling lives.  And, it is still not enough.  There is something that we all can do to help.

All kids need the influence of a positive adult.  However, not all are devoid of a loving home.  Some families have one parent or even two parents who work long hours to support the family.  Other children have a learning or physical disability, or are simply struggling in school.  Others may have endured a traumatic experience such as divorce, loss of a parent to death or prison, abuse or neglect, or are in foster care.

I am inspired by the life stories of two star NFL athletes, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Patrick Willis of the greatest team in the league, San Francisco 49ers.  Both men endured poverty and abuse as children, were rescued by an adult mentor, attended college, and embraced sports with motivation to overcome obstacles.  Both Graham and Willis have shared that the adult mentors in their lives made the difference for them.

Jimmy Graham was abused and abandoned at 9 and again at 11 years old. While attending a local church, a young mother, Becky Vinson, took him under her wing.  The three lived in a small trailer with no heat, where they had to sleep in one room during winter to stay warm.  Becky graduated from college and her example encouraged Jimmy to excel as well.  While Jimmy went on to college at the University of Miami on a basketball scholarship, he played one year of football, and was drafted by the Saints in 2010.

Patrick Willis and his three younger siblings, living in poverty and violence from an alcoholic parent, were on their way to foster care.  A coach and a young couple took the Willis kids into their home and encouraged their education.  Patrick went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi, playing baseball, basketball, and football, where he was All-American.  A highly awarded athlete, he was drafted in 2007 by San Francisco.

The key factor for these outstanding athletes was a mentor, an adult who envisioned a future for these kids whose parents gave up on them.  There are many children, who are in crisis or at-risk of crisis today.

Youth mentors make a difference on a variety of schedules.  Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, or your local school district match adults with at-risk students to provide help with homework, engage in hobbies or sports, teach leadership and life skills, and serve as a positive role model.  YOU can make a difference as a youth mentor.

What is your inspiration for mentoring?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

The National Mentor Partnership

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Boys and Girls Club of America

Hands On Network

Junior Achievement

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

Leverage Baby Boomers for YOUR Volunteer Program

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Senior Volunteer Provides Security for Neighborhood Event

The early Baby Boomer generation is well into retirement and thousands more are joining them every day.  We hear so much about how the Baby Boomers will bankrupt Social Security, overwhelm the medical industry, and increase the demand for long term care.  I want to bring to light a positive note about this generation that includes my parents.  Baby Boomers are generally in better health upon retirement, have a variety of skills, and many are looking for opportunities to volunteer.  As organizations, we should be ready to welcome retirees into our volunteer base and tailor opportunities to fulfill their interests.

My grandma, who passed away last year, was a lifelong social citizen.  She was active in her community, volunteered to help those in need, and was the Chair of the Historical Society in her town until her early nineties.  When my siblings and I would visit, she was always attending meetings or volunteering with the Grange, Women’s Club, the church, or a myriad of other causes for good.  In fact, when I was in high school, she told us she was going to go back to work for a vacation because she was always busy in her community.

She was not alone.  Many retirees, equipped with a valuable skillset after a long career, have extra time to give, and are interested and willing to volunteer for causes they could not engage in while working or raising a family.  Of those who have volunteered for me, retirees are some of the most knowledgeable, skilled, diligent, committed, and dependable volunteers.  While some are limited in mobility, many volunteer activities are still possible.

I have worked with older adult volunteers from newly retired Baby Boomers to the elderly population.  There are a lot of people in this group willing and eager to make a difference.  At my old office inside of a Community Center, an all-volunteer group supported a Senior Program for socializing.  An accountant, a nun, and a nurse, all retired, coordinated all of its activities, attended by nearly 100 seniors.  Others made wellness phone calls or home visits to isolated seniors who lived alone.  One of our retired attorneys, a Stanford alumnus, volunteered legal services to the library system. Elderly volunteers who could not canvass the neighborhood for a campaign, instead made phone calls to voters.  Retirees are adopting teenagers with little expectation for a family before aging out of the system.  An old friend who recently retired, is volunteering full time for the California State Fair this summer.   The list goes on, and all of these older adults are making a difference!

If your organization benefits or can benefit from volunteers,  engage retired Baby Boomers in the work.  Develop volunteer tasks and assignments that leverage the skills of this group and grow with aging needs while cultivating their interests.  Embrace their spirit of commitment and giving to support YOUR cause.  Otherwise your organization is missing out.

Please share your experiences!  Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Family Friendly Volunteering – Are You Inspiring a Future of Service?

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Mom and Son at Family Volunteer Day

I am a parent.  I volunteer with the youth at church.  My neices and nephews that range from teenagers to toddlers. I help with Geometry, Physics, History, and English. I cheer  the team at football and volleyball games.  I drive 40 minutes for a high school car wash and buy tickets for a restaurant I do not like, just to support fundraisers.  I frequent science fairs, academic decathlons, cheer competitions, and soccer award ceremonies.  Why? Because I want to inspire good students and encourage greatness in the youth I influence.

But, what about the greater good?  With so many demands on our time, how can we instill the value of helping others?  Many parents and youth leaders actively engage children of all ages in community service through volunteering.  Finding the opportunity to cultivate a commitment to service while having a good time may be most challenging.

For liability and logistical reasons, many organizations do not allow volunteers under 16 to participate.  Do not be discouraged! There are a myriad of opportunities to encouragechildren in volunteer work.  Service clubs such as 4-H, Boy Scouts of America, and Girl Scouts of the USA are a great opportunity for youth service.  Faith-based organizations and child friendly community events are another option. Include kids in employer sponsored service projects, or school and sporting events and fundraisers.   Or, create your own volunteer activity with family and friends.  Designing  your efforts to be age-appropriate and enjoyable, expressing gratitude, and ensuring that children understand the purpose of the work and how they are making a difference is very important.

My teenage niece has volunteered with our family since she was 4 years old.  She has visited many lonely elderly neighbors, participated in neighborhood clean ups, served lunch to volunteers, cared for animals, tutored fellow students, supported school events, and much more.  Voluntarily, she joined her high school Key Club and volunteered all summer to support the coaches of the football team.  I am very proud that she has integrated a commitment to community service in her personal values.  I would like to think I played a part in that.

Some of my most exciting volunteer projects include youth.  One group of honor students from a Parochial school system along the West Coast provided 3 days of service to elderly in the community.  These kids were captivated by a 95 year old woman who recited poems that she wrote to her huband over 60 years prior.  Another team of students from a Jewish school in Arizona helped low-income older adults with household tasks.  On Family Volunteer Day, children and their parents made cards to be delivered with gifts for at-risk elderly in the community.  Rotarians, their children, and grandchildren visited isolated seniors in their homes and facilities in the area. There are many ways we can help our kids to make a difference in the world they live in and develop a lifelong commitment to community service.

Are you inspiring a future of service?  Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Small Business and Employee Volunteerism – A Volunteer Program for the Little Guy

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AARP Volunteers Day of Service

Large, publicly traded companies receive a lot of attention, well deserved, for their employee volunteer projects.  Some companies allow employees to volunteer during work hours, and have the resources, including brand equity, to generate publicity about employee volunteerism.  However, small businesses oftentimes lack the resources to follow suit and fail to receive the benefits from engaging employees in a company volunteer program.  So, where does the little guy fit in?

Companies do not have to pay employees to volunteer.  Neither do they have to allow volunteer activities during work hours.  In reality, while this practice is really beneficial to recipient organizations, it is an in-kind donation of labor.  While I do not discourage companies from engaging in practices that work best for them, it is not necessary for small businesses to “Keep up with the Joneses,” so to speak.

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Welcome and Introduction to Volunteers

When I was in high school, I worked for a dental corporation with nearly 200 employees founded on the principles of serving the underserved population with care.  Our CEO, a retired dentist, was a generous donor to a variety of national non-profit organizations and community volunteer.  When one of his organizations held a fundraiser in town, he sponsored an employee team to participate which included his donation of several thousand dollars.

On an early Saturday morning, employees, their friends, and families met up in company team t-shirts, on our own time, to kick off the event.  I brought my best friend, Jennifer, the Controller and her husband brought their dog, one of our billers brought her three kids and a friend, and many other of our coworkers came along.  And the event was a lot of fun.  It generated camaraderie, team spirit, and a rewarding sentiment that we were all doing something worthwhile.  In fact, employees gave a hard time to the manager who did not show to the event, and he really missed out.   I have many similar successes with employee volunteers.

Small businesses, non-profits, and public agencies can engage in volunteerism that maximizes their benefit to the employee, the company, and the community.  Successful projects fulfill the interests and needs of employees as well as the organization.  Inviting employee families and friends to participate provides an opportunity to volunteer that may otherwise be unrealistic.  A large, local community or industry sponsored event is a great place to start.  Oftentimes, you can generate a lot of buzz around your efforts and results.

In my community, a large association of hospitality companies sponsors an annual volunteer day where employees of member businesses provide incredible service through a variety of projects.  This family friendly event meets the interest of all ages of volunteers, many of limited means, who participate on their own time.  Not only do they establish camaraderie with their coworkers and colleagues in the industry, but they make a world of difference in our community.

How is your small business or organization making a difference?  Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!