Why Volunteering is the Key to A Fresh Chapter’s Program Model

Terri Wingham is the founder and CEO of A Fresh Chapter, a non-profit whose mission is to heal the emotional scars of cancer through volunteerism, meaningful travel, and programs designed to reframe adversity and redefine what is possible.

Written by Terri Wingham | October 17, 2017

In an instant, the IV pole, the smell of disinfectant, the beeping of the hospital machines, and the murmurs of other conversations in the room fall away. I am no longer a volunteer. He is no longer a patient. We are just two humans staring eye-to-eye as we negotiate the number of crayons he can hold without trying to eat them. After looking over at his weary grandmother, he flashes me an impish grin as and then points at the piece of paper in his crib and instructs me with a nod of his head to start coloring with him. He’s only 2 years old, but he has a definite opinion about what color I should use for the rims of the car on the coloring sheet.

When I first entered the room, I felt uncomfortable. Even after all of these years, I still confront myself in these situations. Who am I to think I have something to give? I’m not a doctor or even a long-term volunteer. But, as always, it only takes a moment of connection for my nerves to melt away. As he captivates me with his dimples, I am reminded that volunteering is about stepping out of our comfort zone, and spending time with people – at home or anywhere in the world – who need a reminder that they matter. So many of our alumni have had similar experiences.

At first, Geena, a survivor of Ewings Sarcoma and a participant on our 2017 Costa Rica Odyssey program, wasn’t sure about volunteering abroad – but her experience at a facility for disabled adults shifted her perspective:

“At first I was skeptical about volunteering abroad. What could I bring to assist at this facility? Would I be of any use? But, my experience exceeded any expectations I had set! The participants didn’t speak a word of English and it didn’t stop them for having eyes full of joy. I couldn’t get over how eager the participants were to have me and the other volunteers around to join them for projects and games. Words can’t describe the impact of my experience with A Fresh Chapter in Costa Rica. I have learned values such as the importance of self-acceptance, collectivity, and love and I am so grateful I had this opportunity.”

For Sonetta, a breast cancer survivor, and another participant on the 2017 Costa Rica Odyssey program, being placed in an elementary school pushed her outside of her comfort zone – and brought out a side of her she normally didn’t let people see.

“In Costa Rica, I was placed in a school to assist the teachers. This was way out of my comfort zone. I usually find some other way to serve instead of being around children in a teaching capacity. I did not think that I had it in me to relate to children. The children of Costa Rica proved me wrong. They approached me without any bias or prejudice. All I felt from them was love and acceptance. They greeted me with hugs and smiles every morning. The time spent with them brought out a maternal side of me that I did not think that I would let anyone see – other than my nieces and nephews. My fear nearly made me miss an opportunity for growth and joy.”

Like Geena and Sonnetta, I often experience initial feelings of uncertainty when volunteering internationally. How will I navigate the language barrier? What if I get in the way? What if I can’t do enough to help? Then, I am reminded that it is about being present and open to how you can most make an impact – even in the smallest of ways. The connections each of us makes while volunteering help to build lasting partnerships for A Fresh Chapter and our future volunteers in countries around the world. As we return year over year, we deepen our connections both within the volunteer projects as well as with local cancer organizations.

We are accepting applications for the Costa Rica Odyssey program from today through Wednesday, October 25th. I hope you take a moment and consider joining us on this life changing experience. The application only takes 15-20 minutes and might be the first step in your fresh chapter. If you are ready to take the plunge, Apply Today.

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