During college, I was actively involved in Relay For Life. My mother was a breast cancer survivor who took over leadership of our small town's Relay For Life committee and I too became very involved in the event. I acted as various roles on the committee and was also a team captain of a Relay For Life team. Having seen my mother's battle with cancer first-hand, I absolutely loved being a part of Relay For Life and was very passionate about what the American Cancer Society stood for.
Once I graduated college, I moved from my small town to Kansas City, a booming metro area. I made the move just a few short months after wrapping up our annual Relay For Life event and I found myself missing that involvement. Relay For Life was an amazing experience, but it was only something I focused on for a handful of months out of the year. I wondered if there were other volunteer opportunities with ACS that would allow me to be more involved throughout the non-Relay months of the year. I happened to be driving through downtown Kansas City one day when I saw the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge building and thought to myself "I wonder what that is".
Later that night, I looked at cancer.org to find out about Hope Lodge Kansas City and learned about the amazing value Hope Lodge provides to cancer patients 365 days a year. And very quickly, I was sold! I have been volunteering with Hope Lodge KC for the last two years and have loved every minute of it!
Let me share some background on American Cancer Society Hope Lodges.
Hope Lodges are ACS-funded facilities that provide free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers who have to travel a long distance for treatment. In addition to providing free housing, they cultivate an atmosphere of support and empathy for patients and their families. Being around so many others who are going through a similar journey helps the residents feel encouragement and, ultimately, hope.
There are over 30 Hope Lodges throughout the US with an average of 44,000 patients and caregivers accommodated each year. That adds up to be about $36 million saved for those cancer patients and caregivers! But as with any sizable non-profit initiatives, it takes a village! It takes a lot of time, money, and work to keep these facilities up and running. There are many ways that individuals can assist a Hope Lodge, whether that's through volunteering, fundraising, or donations.
If you prefer to fundraise, any Hope Lodge will gladly accept monetary gifts. Fundraising can be done outside of the facility, such as at work or in your friend circles and then you can give the money raised to Hope Lodge. However, I've also seen individuals who have held fundraising events inside the facility as well. At the Hope Lodge I volunteer at, someone hosted a bake sale in the actual building and invited his friends and family to come buy goods and take a tour of Hope Lodge while they were there! Hosting a fundraising event in the building is a great way for your friends and families to see, first-hand, what Hope Lodge is and what their donations support.
Aside from monetary donations, Hope Lodges also accept donated items as well. Contact your nearest Hope Lodge location to see what they are in particular need of. For example, the location I volunteer at is always in needs of paper goods like paper towels and toilet paper. Another example is bingo prizes, such as t-shirts, trinkets, and gift cards because volunteers at our Hope Lodge commonly host bingo nights with the guests. But this may differ from location to location, so check with your particular location to see what items are needed at your nearest Hope Lodge.
When it comes to volunteering, there are countless ways that you can volunteer at Hope Lodge. Helping with housework, cooking meals for guests, or hosting activities are just a few. In my two years volunteering, I have led a variety of activities, such as preparing dinners for guests, hosting root beer float nights, bingo games, yoga sessions, movie nights, and crafts activities. What I especially love about volunteering with Hope Lodge is that it gives you a first-hand glimpse into the cancer journeys of the guests and the powerful support system and hope that is cultivated there. And despite how tough and challenging a battle with cancer is, the guests always amaze me with their gratitude and thankfulness towards my volunteer work.
One memory that I hold particularly close to my heart is when I made and served a meal and a guest told me, "This is the best meal I've had in six months!" It meant so much to me to know that the meal I had prepared could bring a little bit of light and happiness in an otherwise dark and trying time in their life.
Aside from the humbling gratitude of the guests and the moving experiences I have encountered while volunteering, another meaningful aspect has been receiving an "Exceptional Volunteerism" award for the last two years because of my dedication to volunteering with Hope Lodge.
This volunteer work has hands down been one of the most impactful experiences of my life, as well as one that I am most proud of. Since moving to Kansas City, I've also been able to be involved in other ACS initiatives as well, such as Road to Recovery, the Cancer Action Network, and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. But there's something about Hope Lodge that resonates for me more than my other ACS experiences. It has provided me with first-hand experiences that just can't be matched.
Each night that I volunteer with Hope Lodge, I leave so much more humbled than when I entered. And each night, I also recount memories of my mother's journey with cancer and become more thankful that her battle was successful and that she is now six years cancer free.
So, if you're like me when I graduated college and you find yourself at a milestone in your life where you maybe have more time on your hands, or perhaps you are looking for more ways to get involved in ACS during the non-Relay months, I strongly encourage you to look into Hope Lodge.
I can attest that it will provide you some exceptionally moving experiences! But I should warn you that it may be emotionally difficult, just like Relay for Life or any other ACS event can be. But in your time at Hope Lodge, you will meet and learn about inspirational people and consequently will learn even more about yourself as well. And when you participate in future American Cancer Society fundraising events, like Relay For Life, those memories from Hope Lodge will remind you just why what you're doing is so important.