I just learned yesterday that it’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week. There is a week for everything, I know, especially in the cancer realm. But this one doesn’t discriminate — it’s a week for all causes, everywhere, and it’s detrimental to every non-profit organization’s existence.
I’ll be frank here. Working with volunteers is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. It’s also one of the most rewarding. When I experience working with an outstanding volunteer, I do everything I can to encourage them, empower them and never let them go. I pay my volunteers at Athletes 4 Cancer with 2 forms of payment:
Athletes 4 Cancer tee shirts and water bottles — all of which my great volunteers have too many.
Praise & Appreciation — Free, and I can never give enough.
With that said, and in celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I’m sharing my top 5 traits for what makes outstanding volunteers so outstanding.
Passionate enthusiasm – They love the cause, the people, the program, the event. They champion the cause in and out of the office, at events and amongst friends. Then, they harness all that love into doing great work.
Professional – Serving as a volunteer doesn’t equate to slacking. The best volunteers treat their role with pride and professionalism, recognizing the organization is a business and depends on them to help achieve impact.
Make no excuses – They are committed and dependable. Timeliness and follow-through are top priorities to them. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it.
Selfless in their contribution – Outstanding volunteers think less about what they can get from the experience of volunteering and more about what they can contribute. This is a big one!
Mission-driven – Outstanding volunteers understand our mission and the impact we aim to achieve in the world, and are dedicated to being a part of making that happen.
If you want to be an outstanding volunteer, note these five above, then talk to these outstanding Athletes 4 Cancer volunteers below about the work they do. I can’t say enough about these amazing individuals in the time and passion they have given to the work we do. There are many many more I would like to add to this list but it would take me all day. And to all the volunteers who give of themselves, THANK YOU! Social innovation, solutions and systemic change would not happen without you.
Mark Whitehead, Garret Zallen, Jenny Williams, Jon Williams, Kip Wylie, Machelle Dotson, Nikki Hollatz, Jon Price, Terese Roeseler, Richard Hallman, Jen Casto, Sarah Bahn, Rayna Morton, Brian Wolff, Chris Aguilar, Nina Garkavi, Tamar Melen, Brianne Sabin, and many many more.
Ever heard of the “types” of fun? It goes like this:
Type I: Fun, fun, fun! “Don’t let it end” kind of fun. Type II: Not fun in the moment, but upon reflection, you’re glad you did it. It builds character. Type III: Not fun. Ever.
For me, painting is Type I. Athletes 4 Cancer camp was Type II. And you can guess what type of fun cancer is.
I was 25 and living out my quarter-life crisis on a farm in the middle of nowhere California when the hammer fell. My cancer was a rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer. It spread to my pancreas, kidney, small intestine, colon; they took all that out. Chemo came later.
It was a support group for young adults with cancer that brought me to to A4C.
A4C camp was truly a type II, character-building experience. In June of 2014, I headed to the A4C snow camp. We had the choice between skiing and snowboarding, and I thought, “I’m not cool. I can’t snowboard,” so skiing it was. Except no one told me everyone else was cool, and I ended up on the slopes not with the other survivors, but with the counselors (no offense, counselors).
I was by myself a lot of time, feeling like I was missing out on the snowboarding camaraderie. Here I thought I might be the rock, the leader even, for everyone else to lean on. Instead, the experience forced me to examine some of my fears, emotions, and anxieties. Plus, just a lot of mental things that happen to you after cancer.
I was almost angry when I left. I was just in a really strange place.
It wasn’t until much afterwards, when I was really able to sift through everything that happened to me, that I realized what an amazing experience A4C camp was. Type II fun can be powerful.
Since camp, I’ve also met tons of other campers who love A4C and the hope it gives to survivors. I can see what it’s done for the friends I’ve made. Sometimes, I think what I’ve taken away from it is seeing the happiness of those other people. And I believe in it for that reason too.
Yesterday was World Cancer Day – a day we fully embraced here at Athletes 4 Cancer with images of our Camp Koru survivor ambassadors “kissing cancer goodbye.” These beautiful faces have gone through some serious physical and psychological challenges in their young lives. Some are still battling the disease and fighting for their lives. All of them are seeking or have found a new normal after cancer. Life is never the same, but you move forward.
This is the face of cancer.
World Cancer Day was started by the Union for International Cancer Control to promote a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer, and that they are within our reach.
I really like their positive and proactive approach to eliminating cancer globally. Their basic points of focus should be something we all strive toward:
Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day, a day celebrating a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer. Join the conversation and call on others to #KissCancerGoodbye after you read this uplifting message from Alyson Geary, a breast cancer survivor and past Camp Koru participant serving as the Director of Donor Relations for the North York General Foundation.
This photo was taken by Bear on the beach in Maui. It represents kissing cancer goodbye because I got out of bed for the first time in many months. After cancer was all done and life was suppose to go back to normal, I got hit with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and post traumatic stress syndrome. I couldn’t function.
Being accepted to Camp Koru forced me to get out of bed and deal. I really started eating for the first time in months at camp, I smiled again, and I came home and fulfilled my lifelong dream by buying a century farm, 150-year-old house. I met an amazing man, my kids are happy again, and I am back to work. I am once again “Aly” or otherwise known as “Khalessi”! Don’t screw with a warrior princess!
Camp Koru and AC4 saved my soul. I will be forever grateful for you being one of my many shovels helping me dig my way out of that dark hole.
The North York General Hospital shared Alyson’s story, proving she’s in the right role at the right time.
Brianna Barrett is one of five Camp Koru ambassadors contributing to the A4C blog sharing her experience about life and cancer.
I refused to shave my head for a preposterously long time. In fact, I refused to shave my hair until after my treatment was over. I was this scrawny, sickly-looking person with creepy long strands of hair over my mostly-bald head. I theorized that it was still enough hair that when I was wearing a beanie or something, it at least looked like I still had some hair (I was probably wrong about this). I often wore a wig, but sometimes wigs are itchy, and you still want to feel like you’re not bald!
The day before I was heading to Seattle to see one of my all-time favorite musicians in concert, my friend Ryan (who never saw me without a wig or hat before) insisted on seeing what my head looked like. Then, upon viewing my disturbingly mangy scalp, he marched me into his bathroom and shaved my head himself. Turns out, I looked way better completely bald than weird-creepy-almost bald.
The next day at the concert, I still wore my wig as I usually did in public. I’m not sure how it happened, though I suspect it had something to do with the fact that I was right next to the stage, but a group of girls at the show started to pick a fight with me. Alcohol-induced, I guess. They were really rude to me and trying to get me to leave.
I have always regretted that I didn’t pull off my wig for just a second to show them my bald head and freak them out. I could’ve said, “Leave me alone. I just beat cancer like two weeks ago and I’m celebrating.” That would have been awesome.
So if you’re reading this and you have cancer and you’re bald, I recommend using that vacant noggin to put rude strangers in their place as needed.
Brianna Barrett is a writer, filmmaker, and artist living in Portland, Oregon. Currently, she is directing a new play, 36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations, for the 2015 Fertile Ground festival and will donate $1 of all ticket sales to support fellow young adults cancer patients and survivors at OHSU. During treatment, Brianna also kept a video journal about her experience.
If you’re going to voluntarily suffer, do it for the right reasons. Like Oregon resident Mark Frost.
On Dec. 21, Mark and about 40 hard-charging recruits took on ten consecutive hours of Sufferfest cycling with proceeds benefitting Athletes 4 Cancer. Only the strong and generous need sign up.
Participants chipped donations while undergoing a pedal-induced sweat fest on stationary bikes in Hood River, Oregon. In total, the event raised about $1,000!
“My father suffered from prostate cancer, and I was compelled to hold this fundraiser in his honor. He selected Athletes 4 Cancer after learning about the positive impact the organization had on young survivors in Hood River,” said Mark.
We’re grateful and inspired to have support from folks like Mark and those who dared to cement their bottoms on a bike for a Sunday. Learn how we’re putting their passion and dollars to work.
The 8th Annual Kiteboarding 4 Cancer raised $122,789 for Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru – enough to cover a full year’s worth of camps that help young survivors get their lives back after cancer.
Kiteboarding 4 Cancer is more than just a kiteboarding event, but the main event is a 6-hour endurance race that tests physical and mental strength and tenacity on the water. Kiteboarders hope for wind to help power their kites to go the full 6 hours, or over 100 miles on the Columbia River in front of the town of Hood River.
Despite a less-than-favorable forecast, the wind kicked in at about noon, increased throughout the day and blew strong and steady for several hours, giving the 154 participants of the 8th Annual Kiteboarding 4 Cancer fundraiser a full afternoon of sunny skies and steady wind to make this year’s 6-hour endurance race one of the best and most competitive in event history!
In a parallel of what cancer survivors endure on a daily basis, the KB4C endurance race is a test of personal grit and determination. Those who log the highest number of laps kite the entire six hours without taking a break — a feat not to be underestimated, especially this year with temperatures climbing into the 90s and the wind blowing considerably harder than expected.
Participants competed more than 2,300 laps around the 3-mile course, totaling nearly 7,000 miles of kiting. Individual male top three finishers were Brandon Scheid (70 laps), Tony Bolstad and Cory Roeseler; top three females were Carol Bolstad (48 laps), Rachel Callahan and Savannah Boersma and the top youth finisher was Veta Boersma (42 laps).
“I was out there riding for two hours straight, constantly working upwind. It was a struggle,” said participant Brianna Hirsch, a cancer survivor. “I was thinking, come on, you’ve been through cancer, you can do this.”
Hirsch’s team of cancer survivors, named Two Lymphomas and Two Ballers, was the top fundraising team this year, bringing in $8,408. Team members were Hirsch, Steve Fisher, Igor Alvarez and Jim Erjavek.
Kiteboarding brought me back to life after cancer experience,” said Hirsch, who teaches lessons for Cascade Kiteboarding School. “Last year was my first KB4C and it inspired me to get more involved.”
In all, athletes from Saturday’s endurance race raised more than $80,000 through pledges and individual fundraising efforts before the race even began.
The top individual fundraiser was cancer survivor and former U.S. National Team synchronized swimmer Mandi Browning, who broke the $10,000 threshold by the end of the weekend.
“Life can certainly throw you some major speed bumps,” Browning said on her KB4C fundraising page. “I think what makes the difference is how we choose to traverse them. I prefer to do this with grace, integrity, and living my life as a positive example for others (especially for my daughter). I am thankful for each new day that I have the privilege to be able to live, and I never take anything or anyone for granted. I was first diagnosed 17 years ago … I fought my last battle three years ago, and I’m standing my ground today, cancer-free. Hey, I’m still here, and I’ve got a lot of things that I’ve yet to accomplish … I want to be able to help others and encourage them in their fight; to be able to show them that all things are possible, and that we are all here to support each other. This is an incredible opportunity and I am honored to be a part of this awesome event.”
On top of individual and team fundraising efforts, silent and live auctions held over the weekend brought nearly $25,000. Among the auction fundraisers, the Boards of Hope art project has become particularly popular, and inspiring, over the years. Boards of Hope can be traced back to Scott Farman, the late brother of KB4C founder Tonia Farman.
“Boards of Hope began from the hospital bed of 19- year-old Scott Farman, fighting for his life with acute lymphocytic leukemia,” an excerpt from Athletes 4 Cancer’s website explains. “Scott turned to art for emotional release and when confined in the hospital. In the process, Scott created powerful works of art that today remain his legacy and inspiration for others to find healing through art and the outdoors.”
Cancer survivor and Camp Koru participant Samantha Newton created one of several of Boards of Hope for this year’s auction. Her board — a snowboard — depicted the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range, under a brightly blue and sunny sky. In an email correspondence, Newton gave the following account of her motivation behind the board design, and her experience with a Camp Koru program on Mount Hood:
“During Camp KORU I participated in downhill skiing for the first time in my life, up on Mount Hood. I would be scared out of my mind, sometimes paralyzed with fear, unable to move down that mountain. And then an 8-year-old would zip by me at a million miles an hour like it was nothing. I’d think, how is that kid doing that? Just letting gravity take him down. “In my journey through cancer I was done with the uphill part, the fighting part. And it was hard, but it makes sense and a lot of people are there for you. “Before Camp KORU I was just wobbling up there at the top of the mountain, alone and scared to move on and filled with anxiety every time I tried to. My week with Tonia (Farman) and her organization and everyone that was on that mountain with me was truly life changing. “I want to go down now. I want to let life take me. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes I still struggle. But, because of the support I had conquering that mountain, I feel like I am more ready to conquer whatever is ahead of me.
“They say it isn’t about conquering the mountain, it’s about conquering yourself. I find that to be true and am finally beginning to move on in my real life because of Camp Koru, and those mountains I see in the distance each day.”
Other events at Kiteboarding 4 Cancer included the Kids Art Tent, The Live Music Stage, the Silent Auction, an Eat-Well demonstration by TrueMed Institute of Hood River, Beer by Full Sail Brewing, and the Boards of Hope live auction.