Monday, April 23, 2007

The Volunteer Voyage, Part III

Even though I had just given birth to my third child and was working full time as a high school counselor, once I encountered Jenny, Andrew and Allie's story on their website, I knew I had to do something to help families battling pediatric cancer. The Scott family brought what had previously been an epidemic I only knew from movie theater spare change collections, a mere blip on my worldview radar, into the forefront of my consciousness. I just couldn't pretend this only happened to "other people" anymore. Even though I had never met Allie, she was as real to me as my own children. I could not stomach the thought of continuing on my merry way, pretending that this wasn't something that needed my attention, because if I wasn't going to do something, anything, to help the cause, I would be doing just that - ignoring the problem like an ostrich with her head stuck in the sand.

The problem for me, though, was not lack of passion or intention, rather lack of direction. How do I help? What do I do? At that point, in the fall of 2004, I did not personally know anyone with a child battling cancer (looking back almost three years later, I am amazed and saddened at how quickly that changed!) Like so many other women, I continued to check the Scott website daily, looking for a way to get involved and help. I had never really volunteered, never been involved with a nonprofit organization, never had a cause that inspired me to get out there and pound the streets and raise my voice about. Okay, world, I had the cause and I had the passion - what do you want me to do with this?

With hindsight being 20/20 the way it always is, I see now that my personal progression from a floundering, lost "what do I do?" working mother of 3 to now (a passionate crusader for the pediatric cancer cause) could not have been better orchestrated if the universe wrote a map just for me. First, Jenny suggested that a good way to help was to walk and fundraise for the Light The Night walk, a major fundraising campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Although I felt a little hesitant - after all, I did not "know" anyone else in Rhode Island that knew of Allie's story, and I had never participated in any event like this - I thought "okay, well, I can do THAT". So I took a deep breath and left my comfort zone and signed up and raised money and walked.

And with that one, simple step (or series of steps, really, since it was a 2.3 mile walk!) I began my own volunteer voyage. I progressed from being a walker, to a team captain, to a national leader on the former Friends of Allie Light The Night team. I started out bringing bagels and muffins to clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, then became an active volunteer with The Tomorrow Fund (a nonprofit similar to HFC in scope and sequence, based in Rhode Island). With my move across the country to Austin, TX this past summer, I am overjoyed to be able to volunteer with my initial inspiration, Jenny Scott. Heroes for Children represents everything that I stand for in the battle against pediatric cancer: it's personal, focused, tireless and committed.

Most fulfilling of all, though, are the families and children I have grown to know and love along the way. Once I opened my heart and eyes to this crisis, the cosmic word must have spread, because suddenly, I found families dealing with pediatric cancer dropping into my life, seemingly from nowhere. First, a fellow teacher's 3 year old son, whose family had moved to Rhode Island only a month earlier (her husband was stationed at the Newport naval base), was diagnosed out of the blue with ALL. Then, the mother of another woman who was here in Rhode Island with no friends or family somehow found my contact information through Friends of Allie and asked me if I could help support and encourage her daughter, whose 4 month old son was just diagnosed with ALL. I became immersed in the southern New England pediatric cancer support circle, making meals for families, signing online guestbooks in websites, and making care packages for children during their inpatient chemotheraphy treatments. Much to my dismay, I found there were hundreds of "Allie's" fighting cancer right here in my backyard. The more I came to know mothers and fathers and siblings and patients dealing with this health crisis, the more my desire to help grew.

to be concluded...

The Volunteer Voyage, Part I
The Volunteer Voyage, Part II


Tracy said...

Seriously, your entries NEED to be longer! I love hearing about everything you did/are doing to help. So proud to be your friend. So blessed that because of Allie we are friends. I can't wait for the next installment!

robinandamelia said...

So many of your feelings mirror my own especially your entry into this world of pediatric cancer. Well written and well said.

Angela said...

Very well written, Tracey.