Ali Azarvan volunteered for 25 local non profits in May and shares his chronicles:
Adventures in Caring
Just like every other major project that I have ever taken on – I encountered a TON of obstacles with my May Days campaign. I had charities fall through the cracks due to illness, car accidents, and just plain lack of interest. Lucky enough for me, I had many awesome nonprofits approach me through my blog and website thanks to the attention this campaign has drawn.
Like I’ve probably said hundreds of times since I started May Days, the coolest thing I’ve experienced has been all the awesome friends I’ve gained throughout this month. One of those friends is Shelley Rickard. I had met her for my day covering Angels Foster Care. Along with her very cool hubby, Geoff, she adopted a beautiful little girl that they fostered through Angels and they were kind enough to share their very emotional, heartwarming, and inspirational story.
I soon found out that Shelley was the volunteer coordinator for Adventures in Caring. So here is where I’m going to go into my “karma is real” rant. . . yes, I believe in karma. Well, at least I believe in my definition of karma. I define karma as “one gets what they deserve based on his/her prior actions”. I’ve truly been doing my best to change the world in any way I can over the last 6 months – so when I got the unfortunate news that at the very last minute I was going to lose 2 charities in my quest for 25, karma stepped in and introduced me to Shelley.
I had never heard of Adventures in Caring – which is shocking to me as they are based here in Santa Barbara and they are absolutely rad (an expression I admittedly adopted after a couple years here in SB). Their mission statement says it all – The Adventures in Caring mission is to lift the spirits of those who are sick and lonely – to bring hope, encouragement, and joy to those who are isolated by illness or injury.
My father is a physician and my lifelong idol. . . it may sound cliche, but it’s true. He’s the single biggest role model in my life. Although he’s a physician, and inherently believes in the power of western medicine, he’s also a huge believer in the power of the mind and spirit. He believes that someone with a positive attitude and a fighting spirit stands a much better chance of surviving any medical ailment than someone with a negative outlook and weak spirit. This belief has been ingrained in me – so I can absolutely understand “Adventures” thought that many issues can’t be solved my medicine.
Forgive me for directly quoting their website – but I found this to be beautiful and 100% true:
“The grief, fear, and despair that people so often experience when faced with a serious illness or injury – when facing their mortality – is not a medical problem, and it has no medical solution. There is no pill or medical treatment for such deep emotional suffering, such soul pain. It is a human problem and the only solution is human contact, with someone who cares, listens, and connects at a deeply heartfelt level”.
The 2nd aspect of this great charity is to cultivate compassion in health care – their goal is to give those in health care (both volunteers and professionals) the inspiration, skills, and materials the need to the compassion that is integral to great health care. This is near and dear to my heart as we (my wife and I) just recently had a TERRIBLE experience at a hospital down in LA (I will not name them as I don’t want to unfairly bash an institution for 1 particular doctor’s actions). Long story, short – we had a major health scare with our baby boy. After 24 hours of EEG monitoring, the attending physician greeted us with a “let me guess, you’re first time parents” followed by a grating chuckle.
I’m not a violent man – but I had some terrible thoughts after hearing that. My wife and I had been through hell over the last few weeks due to some episodes our child was consistently displaying and the doctor’s first reaction was the most dismissive / insulting thing I’ve heard in a very long time (we soon found out from another physician that we were right in worrying but, thankfully, all was well with our baby). Moral of the story – we would have had a much better experience had that physician attended one of the Adventures in Caring seminars or read through some of their materials.
And here’s what’s most brilliant about this nonprofit – most of their volunteers are Pre-Med UCSB students – the same students that will become tomorrow’s nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and hospital administrators. Think about that. They will learn how to fix the body at med school – they will learn how to be compassionate humans through Adventures in Caring. Such a great concept.
In talking with Shelley, I heard something that is very telling of the success that they have experienced:
Volunteers commit to volunteering once a week for 2 hours and for a school year. I have been lucky to get the majority of my volunteers in their first or second year and they go the full 3-4 years with me. The emotional maturity and growth is incredible. I have witnessed their growth from being a shy, unsure freshman, to a very confident, loving, caring person who wants to make a difference in health care. I have been doing this for 10 years so I have seen volunteers in undergrad and have followed them through med school, starting their careers, getting married and having children”.
What this tells me is that “Adventures” has figured out how to eliminate one of the biggest problems I’ve seen throughout my May Days campaign – volunteer turnover. With many of the charities I worked with, I noticed an alarming trend- volunteers would stop showing up after a couple of visits. As with any business, consistency is important – and Adventures has it figured out.
As with most nonprofits, they will take anyone who wants to volunteer, right? Nope. They screen, interview, and train each volunteer – and I’m not talking about a quick “hey, here’s what to do and here’s what not to do” – I’m talking about a 22 hour thorough training. “Adventures” invests a lot into each volunteer because they know that each volunteer will one day be manning the front lines of medicine.
Most people think that their job is to simply cheer people up or entertain them (they do, afterall, sport the cutest Raggedy Anne costumes while on duty) – while that is a bi-product, it’s not the main focus. “Our volunteers sit with them and allow them to talk about whatever it is they want to talk about. They are there to hold their hands, wipe away tears, give hugs – truly experiencing the moment with them. That’s why we call it an adventure – you never know what is going to happen that day or where the discussion will lead” Shelley explained.
This program has been so successful (it has been around for 30 years!) that other organizations have begun to ask them to teach their volunteers their secrets. So they created a 3 DVD series for Health Care professionals and volunteer organizations. They have actually just completed the 3rd DVD, “Oxygen for the Caregiver”, that will premiere on June 19th at 430 at the New Victoria theater. Very exciting stuff. . .