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Volunteer

People Who Volunteer

Volunteering is often so meaningful to people who try it, that they are inspired to share their experiences with others. Read the personal reflections below to see how people who volunteer, are people like you.

NADIA BEN-YOUSSEF
Student, Age 13
Sydney, Montana
Writes poetry and sings for the elderly

I've been singing and performing poetry since I was six years old. I guess I've volunteered since I was eight. My singing is a cappella; I don't sing with music. My singing and poetry are the same thing. I used to sing for my mother's friends, and then I started singing for fund-raisers put on by church groups, women's clubs, the Lions Club, and stuff like that.

I have three books of poetry and songs. A fourth is in production. I donate all of the money from the books to children's charities. Money from my first book went to a school for deaf and blind kids in Great Falls, Montana, and to the Lions Club. They did a campaign called Sight First to help the blind. Money from the second book went to Home on the Range, a shelter for abused children and to the Feed The Children fund for orphans in Bosnia.

I visit people at a local nursing home. I do the women's hair, I do their nails, and they ask me to come by on Sundays and perform for them. And I do. There's no microphone and no musical accompaniment. I also sing for homebound hospice patients. I visit them and talk and sing for them. I guess that's what's really fulfilling to me, when I sing to someone who is dying, someone who is really sick, and who isn't aware of much of what's happening, but when I'm done there's a smile on that person's face.

I find that everyone needs love, everyone can give love, and that love is what everyone wants. That's a really important lesson to me. Making someone happy makes you happy, and they go on and make others happy and it's like a chain. Love is a chain of giving. You change when you get older, but love is ageless. Love is the same when you are 7, 13, or 102.

KEITH MICHAELS
Substance Abuse Counselor, Age 33
Santa Monica, CA
Guides Blind Runners

A lot of people I train with compete, and this organization is not about how fast you are or how many races you've won. It's just people who get together who love to run. And obviously if you're blind, unless you're running on a treadmill, you can't run by yourself. Running has done so much for me in my life-I just decided that guiding a blind runner might be a nice way to give a little bit back to something that's given so much to me.

I learned to guide, at first, by listening and watching John, one of the other sighted guides. Learning how to keep as little tension as possible on the tether, which is the equipment we use to stay connected while we're running.

Sharlene's been completely blind since birth. She's - she'll kill me if I get this wrong - forty-six or forty-seven years old. She's run thirty marathons - she has an incredible spirit. All she knows how to do is to live life on life's terms without the use of her eyes. She doesn't let being blind get in the way of pursuing her dreams. I really like that about her; that spirit is contagious. You feel like an idiot complaining about the weather, about anything.

I suppose there's a lot of truth to the saying that "The best things in life are free." I go home after showing up at Achilles - on the days when I want to and on the days when I don't want to, when I really don't feel like running seven miles right then - always feeling like I can't wait for next Sunday. Every time.

KATHERINE PENER
County Elections Coordinator, Age 84
Miami Beach, Florida
Counsels breast cancer patients after surgery

I'm a breast cancer survivor, and I help women who've had surgery for breast cancer. I've volunteered for the Reach to Recovery program for twenty-two years.

Reach to Recovery works because all the volunteers helping women through the trauma of breast cancer and surgery have been there themselves. Seeing the volunteers, women know they can beat this. It's critical that women see a survivor. A patient's eyes light up when I say it's been twenty-nine years since I had my operation.

The Reach to Recovery program was founded in 1952 by Therese Lasa, a breast cancer survivor. Like others before her, she had no one to turn to during that ordeal. The American Cancer Society adopted the program the same year I had my surgery, in 1969. I read about the program in the New York Post and asked my doctor. "Shouldn't I have one of these visitors?" The doctor said, "What do you need them for?" That feeling of being alone I will never forget. I felt hopeless.

I guarantee anyone who volunteers will feel better emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I don't care who you are or what you do. The people I know who volunteer have smiles on their faces. The hours they give are worth more to them than any money they could ever receive.

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