Together with their millions of supporters, the American Cancer Society (ACS) saves lives and creates a world with less cancer and more birthdays by helping people stay well, helping people get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back.
American Cancer Society
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Five and a half years ago, Patricia Brown was searching for volunteer events that interested her and fit her schedule. While reading the Lockheed Martin newspaper (where she is a data analyst), she found an opportunity asking for people to volunteer for Relay for Life in Cupertino.
Relay for Life is a 24-hour track event sponsored by American Cancer Society (ACS) that brings teams of people together to celebrate and remember those who have battled cancer and raise money to fight the disease. Over the course of the previous year, Patricia had just started getting involved in volunteering. She’d do a few hours now and again for many different organizations, using VolunteerMatch to look for opportunities that fit her work schedule. Interesting event, flexible schedule. This one fit.
She spent a few hours volunteering for Relay for Life, and was amazed at the enthusiasm of the people that attended the event. "They were warm and friendly, and cancer survivors were just amazing to listen to and talk to," Patricia relates.
Shortly after her Relay for Life experience, though, the unthinkable happened: Patricia was diagnosed with cancer herself. Her nomadic volunteering style ended. "I really came to understand how important it is to volunteer your time to help others - you just never know when you will need help yourself," she says.
Patricia found out that the type of cancer she has does not have an effective treatment, and that’s when she really dug into the American Cancer Society. She was impressed by how many programs they offer and their large Survivor Network, so she decided this was where she wanted to do most of her volunteer work from then on.
"I find a lot of support in the ACS network myself," says Patricia. "I've made great friends and met so many wonderful people. I've met hundreds of Survivors and we talk, compare notes, discuss treatment issues and even offer a shoulder to cry on when someone needs it."
Once Patricia made the decision to devote her volunteer time to ACS, she really gave it her all. The following year she became the Survivor Chair for Relay For Life - Cupertino and remained in that position for 3 years. This year she is the Advocacy Chair for multiple Relay For Life events.
She also has become a Legislative Ambassador/Area Constituent Lead for the 14th District of California and has served as Advocacy Chair at Mountain View & Cupertino Relay For Life Events. She is in the Speakers Bureau for the California Cancer Research Act, and attends a Relay For Life event every weekend letting people know that this initiative will be on the ballot in 2012.
In 2010 Patrica was nominated and selected as a Hero of Hope for her dedication. It was a big change from the occasional volunteer event when it fit her schedule. But Patricia wouldn’t have it any other way.
Her personal motto is "The world should be a better place, just because I have lived." She doesn’t know if others have come up with the words before her, but she believes in them very strongly. "None of us should just take from this world," she says, "we need to give back to the world and the people in it that need help or support." Her way of doing this is to volunteer.
"As a person, volunteering has been the best thing that I have ever done for myself," Patricia states. Volunteering has given her many opportunities she never anticipated. She used to be a very shy, quiet, person, contributing when she could but always in the background. Thanks to her determination to help ACS, she can now talk to just about anyone about anything, no matter the size of the group.
For example, she recently spoke at the Bay Area Research Breakfast to over 200 people. She never could have done this before. Thanks to her volunteer experiences, she’s grown more confident and outgoing.
"I don't think there is anything I don't like about volunteering," says Patricia, "but must admit that the overwhelming joy I feel when I see the people that I am helping smile at me or tell me I am an inspiration to them is the ultimate high." After all, in the end it’s the difference that she makes to others that keeps Patricia so committed to her volunteer work.
She recently volunteered for a 4th of July celebration at the VA Hospital, and was assigned to escort a legally blind WWII veteran named Jerry. Throughout the day they ate lunch, Jerry told her his war stories, they walked around the fair, and even devised their own system of playing carnival games. Jerry ended up with a collection of prizes.
As he was getting on the bus to go home, Jerry turned around and offered Patricia a stuffed bear from his armload of carnival winnings. "May I give you a hug and kiss on the cheek?" he asked. "Today has been the best time I have had in a very long time." "I walked away with tears running down my face," Patricia says, "knowing that I had just made someone, that I owed a lot for his service to my country, very happy even if it was just for a few hours."
Patricia’s work isn’t always easy and fun. Since she volunteers with an organization that serves people with cancer, sometimes it’s very hard to see what cancer has done to them, especially when it’s a child. But she offers advice for other volunteers: "Just jump in."
The hardest part, she says, is making that first commitment. If it turns out that you aren't quite suited for the volunteer work you committed to, try again somewhere else. And if necessary, again. "Because once you find that match," Patricia promises, "your life will change forever. You will be hooked and you will experience things you never dreamed of."
Patricia plans on retiring in a few years, but not to live a life of leisure. Giving up her day job will simply give her the opportunity to devote herself full time to ACS. "I don't think there is anything that gives greater satisfaction than helping someone in need," Patricia says. "But you must really put your heart into it to get the most satisfaction out of it."