The Volunteer Leadership Conference (VLC) is right around the corner and it's one of my most favorite weekends of the year! It is the one time all year long that I get to be surrounded by like-minded people -- people who know exactly what it's like to live with cystic fibrosis and who also have a fire in their bellies, who support each other, and who will help us eventually find a cure for CF. It took time to get here, though.
In 2002, my son Gavin was diagnosed with CF at the age of 2 1/2. Like so many others, I had no idea what that even meant. As I learned more about the disease, I knew that I had to step outside of my comfort zone and figure out a way to make some kind of impact. Back then, the life expectancy for people living with CF was 32. I was even more determined to make an impact when I learned that my second child, Jake, who I was 6 months pregnant with, also had CF.
Shortly after, I recovered from the shock of our dual diagnoses, and reached out to the CF Foundation to learn about ways I could fight back against CF. I soon discovered I could use my voice not only to raise awareness about a disease I once knew nothing about, but also to fundraise and help us get closer toward a cure.
If you're brand new to volunteering like I was many years ago, I recommend starting with these steps:
- Reach out to your local chapter. After I first contacted my chapter, I learned that my local Great Strides walk was only two months away. I had never raised a single dollar in my life and, in fact, was extremely uncomfortable asking anyone for help with anything. But cystic fibrosis changed all of that. I knew that I'd never be able to save Gavin and Jake's lives on my own. I needed to build an army of people to help me do that -- and that's exactly what my husband and I did. Our very first walk made it very clear to me that by putting myself out there, I could give others the motivation to join our team and our cause. Believe it or not, it was so much easier than I ever thought it would be!
- Share your story. That first year, just by sharing our story with pretty much everyone we had ever met, we gathered a team of 125 walkers and raised over $30,000. Over the years, our team size has fluctuated and so have our fundraising strategies and efforts. What we've learned is that it all starts with sharing your story. Write a letter and add pictures of who you are fundraising for. Send a good, old-fashioned letter to everyone you know and use your social media outlets. Do not exclude a single person from your list because the most unassuming people could become your biggest advocates. Once you start tasting that sweet, sweet taste of success, you won't be able to stop!
- Set your own pace. Fundraising and volunteering can truly fit wherever you are in your journey. It can be a couple of hours and a handful of people showing up to walk at Great Strides. Or it can be a full-fledged, gigantic event that attracts thousands of people and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars! That's the beautiful thing about volunteering and about fundraising. You get to decide how big or how small your effort will be and how many hours you can dedicate to it. And along the way, you get to be a part of one of the most amazing groups of people -- one of the most amazing families there is. You get to be a part of this incredible network called the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation!
- Make friends along the way. Lots of people have been chosen to fight a battle. I am very grateful that my battle allows me to fight alongside people who have now become my best friends. That's why I'm so grateful to everyone whom I get to work with at VLC. Even if you can't be there in person you can tune in online and be a part of this incredible team. If you are already volunteering with the CF Foundation, thank you. And if you haven't had the chance yet, give it a try! How often do you get the chance to really make such a huge impact on so many lives?!
Join the conversation on Facebook.