The True Value of Volunteering

***This post was written by Deb Stewart, R.N., who leads a group of Survivor Volunteers in the Johns Hopkins Breast Center. In honor of National Volunteers Week, Deb pays tribute to her volunteer group and describes the value of volunteering. Like the volunteers we saw give their help during the Boston bombings, Deb's volunteers provide life-saving help and comfort. Volunteers everywhere: we salute you!

One needs only to raise their hand to volunteer--usually.  I have been a GS leader, Sunday school teacher, a room mother and bird club secretary.  Every volunteer experience enriches me and offers connection with others of like mind and purpose.   The greatest of my volunteer experiences belongs to my membership in a community of breast cancer survivors.  Diagnosed at age 25 more than three decades ago, I could not find anyone of my age with breast cancer.  I was invited to join a volunteer-led support group formed by Johns Hopkins where much of my healing would be addressed.  I signed on with the aim of being a volunteer group leader, which I did for three years.

Diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years later, I again looked for support and this time it would be from two Johns Hopkins Breast Center volunteers who would call me as I was making treatment decisions.  We connected through their stories and their compassion.  This would be my goal, to volunteer and to pass forward the same kindness.  Along the way, like the volunteers, I realized my support of patients is not about me; it is about the person I am serving.  This is the same with the walks and races for breast cancer; it is about the cause I am supporting, it is not about me.  

Today, I coordinate the activities of the Hopkins Breast Center Volunteer team, 37 women and one man, (32 have had breast cancer).  They tell me that they too are enriched through their volunteer experience.  I have heard volunteers who say that they are surprised to receive more than they give.  Another volunteer consistently says ‘thank you’ before she starts her volunteer day.   A new volunteer recently wrote an email that said:   “You and I talked some time ago about the ‘club’ of which none of us really chose to be a member, but now I feel, it is by choice that this involuntary club membership is turning into a community membership with a purpose. “  Our breast center Volunteers are a community of hope.  We have a mission of service and along the way find meaning and unexpected fulfillment.    Who would think having raising  your hand would lead to such an experience. 

Deb Stewart, BSN, RN
Nurse Navigator
Volunteer Coordinator for Johns Hopkins Breast Center

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