How volunteering changed my life

About seven years ago my best friends and I worked at a summer day camp as counselors in training. During the last week of summer, the campgrounds were reserved for a special program called Children’s Hospital Camp. Children affected by cancer, severe burns, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease enjoyed a week of biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, and arts and crafts at the campgrounds.

It was at this camp that I developed a friendship with a 4-year-old girl battling leukemia. After spending just one week with “Gracie,” I realized any obstacle I faced in my life didn’t compare to what she was going through. Gracie was in a lot of pain from her cancer treatments, but she didn’t let her discomfort hold her back from participating in camp activities. No matter how much her body ached, she had a smile on her face and a high five ready for me after she finished each activity.

When Gracie’s camp session was over, I knew I wanted to help children like her who were battling potentially terminal illnesses. I applied and accepted a volunteer position at the children’s hospital where I helped children make arts and crafts in the common room.

After a few weeks of volunteering, I saw Gracie at the hospital. Her cancer had gotten worse. She had lost all of her hair from her treatments. I said hello to her and chatted with her mom as she and I watched Gracie color a pink paper crown to hang up in her hospital room.

When my shift was over, I ran to my car with tears rolling down my face. I had to help Gracie, but how? I was just a 16-year-old girl; I could not afford her medical bill.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at my favorite hair salon and asked a stylist to cut off 9 inches of my hair. I didn’t know if my hair could be donated to Gracie or if she would accept it, but I had to try. I found out a few weeks later that Gracie did receive a wig from the hair I donated.

Even though it was a quick decision, it was in that moment I knew that my life’s calling was to give back to the community. I learned that gestures like donating my hair could make a big difference.

Four internships, a college degree and two jobs later, I joined the team at Branigan Communications. Here, I am honing my public relations, media relations and writing skills to help nonprofits affect change. In doing so I have been able to help others like Gracie and her family who face challenges far beyond what most people deal with in their lifetimes.

Volunteering is a part of our DNA at Branigan Communications. Employees are encouraged to sit on nonprofit boards and organize office-wide activities and donations. At the suggestion of one of our staff members, we recently started a new program called Volunteering Time Off, which gives employees eight hours of paid time each year to volunteer in the community.

But the dedication to the community doesn’t stop at our doors — our clients are just as committed. I have been fortunate to work with clients who have developed their own business objectives dedicated to bettering the community, and the world.

Whoever said you can’t combine your job and your passion was mistaken. One week with Gracie forever shaped my life. It’s through my work that I now hope to change lives in the same, positive way and inspire other people to do the same.

— Kate Kazan, account executive