A couple of weeks ago now I attended my first volunteer conference. The conference was referred to as Palooza and it felt as much like a festival as it did a conference. 2016 seems to be a year of volunteer firsts since the Invictus Games was my first volunteer vacation.

When I found out that Crisis Text Line was having a conference for their counselors I knew that I’d move mountains to be there and between starting a new job, financial challenges, and Formula 1, there were a few mountains. Mountains were moved, planes boarded, and a few hundred superheroes without capes converged on Austin, TX to spend a few days in amazement. *Signs Amazing*

Although it’s great that this is a digital experience and I can log in on my couch and feel connected to texters and counselors, it’s nice to hug these people. Putting your arms around people who know what it’s like, who’ve taught you, and been there with you, is the best kind of comfort.

I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how different this organization really is. I’ve been volunteering all my life (seriously, I remember as a kid I’d be stuffing donor drive envelopes for the Ballet while watching the Disney Channel). I have never seen anything like this. Many organizations appreciate their volunteers, many rely on their volunteers, but I have never seen any organization that puts its volunteers first. Appreciated is an understatement and they let us know and feel that at this conference. You might be thinking – of course most organizations don’t do that, the people or the cause they serve should come first. But what Crisis Text Line has figured out (through data and not being afraid to breakdown assumptions) is that putting the volunteers first makes it possible to serve the texters. Supporting volunteers is the key to what drives empathy to people in crisis. Volunteers give their time for so many reasons and I think a lot of us do it with or without a thank you but Crisis Text Line is starting a revolution with this idea. I’m a better volunteer because I’m supported, validated, and celebrated. My first shift back from the conference I felt like I could take over the world, I took more conversations and was more engaged than ever. I was a better counselor.

When I signed up, it was a 4 hour weekly commitment for a year. It sounded like a lot and some weeks the 4 hours feels like a lot sometimes but I’ve passed my 1 year commitment by a few months and have basically left it behind. I will be a Crisis Text Line counselor as long as they’ll have me. I’ve found something amazing. I’ve learned to be open to the fact that even if my assumptions are positive, I can be wrong. I’ve been inspired to be open and listen to the things that challenge my assumptions.

Another thing that stuck out to me during the conference was how diverse of a group we are. Crisis Text Line isn’t just a genius idea because people in crisis can use their phones to get help in a new and easy way, it’s a genius idea because people can volunteer in a way they wouldn’t normally be able to. Caring people are no longer limited by location, time, or disabilities. So if you aren’t able to get somewhere to volunteer, your only free time is in the middle of the night, or you have a physical disability that might keep you from doing typical volunteer work; at Crisis Text Line these aren’t limits. For example, there is a growing hard of hearing or deaf contingent. There are older volunteers who might not get the same reaction or connection face to face with younger people in crisis. There are volunteers in remote locations – all 50 states. The only requirements really are empathy and the internet.

A million people die by suicide every year worldwide. A million people. It sounds overwhelming but also motivating. I can make a dent. My kindness, my words, can help. I imagine one of those big neon signs that show the donations for a charity telethon, but going in the opposite direction. I’m screaming out in the world that you matter and the number goes down. I tell people that I go to therapy and the number goes down. I work a shift on Crisis Text Line and the number goes down.

The Crisis Text Line conference was amazing and I’m still feeling the effects. I learned so much and it brought me so much happiness. I feel very connected to this community.

If you’re interested in volunteering you can find more information here.  Feel free to ask me any questions you have in the comments.



How to find Volunteer Opportunities


It’s time to wrap up the Volunteering focused quarter. This one seemed to fly by. It looks like I’m at around 145 hours so far this year, which puts me ahead of last year. Volunteering is my primary method of Being Goode. For me it’s both the easiest and most rewarding. I’ve never donated a lot of money but I always have time to give.


People always ask me how I found my volunteer gigs. I think one way is that I always have my eyes and ears open to possibilities. I volunteer for Crisis Text Line because of an article I found in a magazine. I came across the Invictus games because of a news article about Prince Harry. I started volunteering at 826LA/Seattle because I love the author Dave Eggers and it’s an organization he started. I volunteered at the Cincinnati Ballet because I took ballet classes growing up. A friend helped me get into volunteering at the Special Olympic World Games. I see things and wonder if I can help, and then I follow-up.


Here are some other ways to find volunteer opportunities –

  • Talk to Friends
    • Do your friends volunteer already? Ask if you can join them. If they aren’t already volunteering ask what they’re passionate about. There could be something you could do together instead of your normal activities.


  • Check with Your Employer
    • The company I work for offers lots of opportunities to volunteer. Fellow employees post volunteer opportunities on a monthly calendar that you can search. At other places I’ve worked they’ve posted things on the bulletin board.


  • Search for Organizations You Love
    • Is literacy something you care deeply about? Does homelessness in your area break your heart? Do you love the arts? Start from your passion and search the Internet. You’ll likely find a few organizations in your area and their websites will have links to volunteer applications.


  • Search by a Skill You Want to Share
    • Are you athletic or have coaching skills? Would you like to share some of your professional skills? Do you enjoy cooking? Can you knit or sew? You can often find a volunteer opportunity by your skills.  Girls on the Run and the Special Olympics both need coaches/runners. Many non-profits need people to help with accounting/data entry/marketing skills. Some shelters offer classes in basic life skills like cooking that you could teach or assist with. You could knit or sew things for preemies or other people in the hospital.


Whether it’s an hour or hundreds I think you’ll find it very rewarding. It’s also something you can put on a resume and a great way to meet new people. Often you’ll find that volunteer can be a once in a lifetime experience.

How do you find volunteer experiences?


Why Volunteer?




Someone asked me the other day why I volunteer. They made some other assumptions but I’ll tell you the real story (as well as I can).

I’m also a writer and there is always talk about why you’re are a writer, who really is a writer, and what reasons are valid. The standardly accepted response is; Writers write because they have to. For me it’s not that simple. I could say I write because I have to, because I’m compelled to but I write to put my head in order, and I write to remember, and I write to communicate, and I write to understand things (like Didion). But mostly I write because I love reading and someday I hope to write something that will effect someone else the way that my favorite books have effected me.

I don’t have the same clarity as to why I volunteer. It’s partially because I always have. I started volunteering with my family when I was around 8 years old. Some if it is because I get to participate in pretty cool events, I used to usher to see plays or the ballet. Occasionally I’ll be invited by a friend. It does look good on my resume and that’s a real benefit. The first answer that always comes to mind is why wouldn’t I volunteer?

I think really though it’s how I feel when I happen to be in the right place, offering the right help, at the right time. When I feel like I actually might be changing the world.

Why do you volunteer? Are we all just crazy?

One in a Million


“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

– Howard Zinn

When I had that awful cold last week (which is still lingering) I started to feel frustrated that I couldn’t help. I get so much joy from being productive and helping others that to have to sit on the couch all day and sleep isn’t something fun for me. Especially after my big amazing week of volunteering at the Invictus Games. I had to cancel my Crisis Text Line shift and my appointment to donate blood and had to end another Crisis Text Line shift early.

Missing my blood donation appointment was hard on me and I’m still looking for a good time to fit it back in but I really do need to feel 100% to donate. Donating blood as much as I’m able is really a big focus for me this year. And of course I got a few emails that this last weekend my blood type was in short supply for platelet donations. I felt even worse.

Then today I came across this Howard Zinn quote and it reminded me to calm down. Two weeks or a month out of the year focusing on myself and my health doesn’t matter. The small things I do the rest of the year can transform the world. I’m one of millions of people who volunteer, who donate blood, who counsel those in need, who help with events. Together we’ve got this. I can take a rest if I need it because someone is out there to help pick up the slack. And when I get back to full health I can give someone else with the helping spirit a little slack when they need it.

Countdown to Invitus

Only 5 days until I’ll be in Orlando for the Invitus Games! I’m very excited and also in scramble mode trying to get things done. I’m starting to see why people take Voluntourism vacations that are pre-planned… Pulling things together from across the country is a lot of work. I’m also doing a 10k and a half marathon this weekend. I had signed up for it previously and it will be the reason I’m going to miss the opening ceremonies of the games.


I’m trying to put together a game plan for my posts and what I’m going to write about. I’ll try to do a quick update daily during the games and hope to come away with some longer pieces by the end of my trip. I’m signed up to volunteer from 7am to 11pm most days so we’ll see what happens.


The Queen, POTUS, and Trudeau are all ready and have posted twitter videos that are pretty hilarious. So I’m just going to take a queue from them and drop the mic on this post. Game on!

Making Sure Your Help is Helping

On Sunday I watched a piece on CBS Sunday Morning – When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But

It was devastating. One leader in the field had a slideshow of disaster relief disasters; piles and piles of unneeded clothing, warehouses full of unused teddy bears and toys. As someone inclined to help it’s upsetting to see that every little bit doesn’t count, that good intention is far from enough, and it reminded me how important it is to think about how best to direct our urge to help. The inclination to be kind is a spark, a wonderful spark, but to turn it into a healing fire it takes thought and restraint and work.

For me one of the harder areas of philanthropy is supporting our troops. I’ve written letters in support drives, sent scarves in care packages, and I clap and say thank you at airports but it all seems very misdirected.

There was an article in the NY Times last year about that – Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service – The article was wonderfully written and reinforced my instinct that I wasn’t doing enough or doing it quite right.

I’m so excited to go to the Invictus Games!  It’s going to be a fun event and maybe I’ll be able to get some insight into how to help. Sometimes the biggest sticking point is that we need those who need the help to guide us. They know best what they need but sometimes they don’t really know what they need.

I run across vets when I’m crisis counseling. I’ve seen PTSD in real life and what it means to be a military family. But I still feel like I’m missing some key, the answer is still in a code I can’t seem to break. What does “I support our troops” really mean and how can I stop it from feeling like a phrase in a foreign language? How do I make more than a beau geste?

Volunteering to Literally Give Yourself

One of my resolutions this past New Years was to donate blood on a regular basis I’ve done a couple of times casually in the past, when there was a blood drive near by. I downloaded the app  and have started making my appointments to donate whole blood every 56 days (or so). I don’t mind needles, I’m healthy and don’t feel very effected after donating, and they tell me I’m saving 3 lives, which is a nice energy boost.


Exploring more about it I found out there are four types of blood donation – Whole Blood (typically what we think of), Platelet Apheresis, Plasma Apheresis, and Double Red Cells. They all have different requirements, waiting periods between donations, and blood type needs. Honestly, I’m still pretty confused by it but I am a candidate for Whole Blood and Platelets.


I’ve given whole blood twice already this year. Then I signed up for my first platelet donation this past Sunday. They pretty severely underestimate the time it takes to donate blood/platelets. They say platelets takes about 2 hours and really it ended up taking my whole Sunday so I had plenty of time to think about how this kind of volunteering works.


I made the first appointment of the morning, which I like to do for two reasons – then I have the rest of the day to do my thing, and I can still have my coffee at a reasonable time (caffeine before donation makes me ineligible because of the effect on my blood pressure). Last time I gave blood it was in the afternoon so it was a whole day without morning coffee and I wasn’t happy.


I went to my local Red Cross center. There was someone sleeping on the stoop as I walked in. I went through the pre-test physical. I had to do the worst part (the finger prick iron test) twice but I was ready to go. I had filled out the questionnaire that morning before I arrived; they call it a Rapid Pass. Although you have to do it either way so I don’t think it counts as a timesavings. I picked a DVD – The Martian – and got settled into the chair. I’ve been meaning to see The Martian so I was really excited and thought to myself oh this it just like watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon except I’m doing good. That of course isn’t completely accurate but it’s a nice thought. Unfortunately, the timing worked out that the part of The Martian where Matt Damon is doing surgery on himself happened as they were putting needles into my arms (this center does the two arm method taking blood from one arm and returning it through the other) – all things I normally look away from. Just had to close my eyes for a few minutes and I was fine. They piled the blankets on me and instructed me to hold still except for one hand squeezing a ball.


It’s harder than it sounds to hold still for that long. When I normally watch a DVD, I shift, I eat, pet the dog, etc. The actually process of apheresis took 2 hours. I wondered who came up with this and how. How do you think – hey patients can’t clot properly, what if we take someone else’s blood, use a centrifuge to separate the platelets and then give it to the patient?! I think they should make way more bio-pics about scientific discovery. I think it’s so interesting.


Afterwards it’s the normal cookies and orange juice routine. The person who was sleeping on the stoop when I came in had moved inside. She was kind of talking to me, kind of mumbling. I try my best to acknowledge everyone, even when I have nothing more to give. But it was difficult. I needed this time to recover. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or have to worry about anything. I didn’t want her there but I also wouldn’t have wanted the Red Cross to remove them. No one wants to feel like a jerk after making a donation and this was a catch 22 sort of moment.


Physically it felt a little like I was drunk – tired, clumsy, tingly nose – but overall I felt fine. It felt like it took more out of me than the normal blood donation but it was probably because of the amount of time spent and that it was my first time. I probably tensed my arms too much in an effort to remain still.


All in it took me about 4 hours. Then it took the rest of the day to recover. I was really tired the entire day and now, a couple days later I’m still tired and have a pretty big bruise on one of my arms. I laid on my couch the rest of the day and my dog curled up next to me and gave me a kiss on my inner elbow where the blood had been drawn. It was sweet.


It’s strange because it’s not just time, sweat, and/or skills; you’re giving a literal part of yourself – your blood.


I decided to start taking a multi-vitamin with iron so I can make it through the rest of the year donating whole blood, I think I’ll do platelets again but not on a regular basis and it made me think seriously about registering for the Bone Marrow registry, something which I think I’ll do when I have a better job with health care and vacation days.


Have you donated blood? What are your feelings about blood donation as part of a volunteering repertoire?


For more information call the Red Cross 1-800-RED-CROSS to find out more or visit redcrossblood.org. Or contact your local hospital for more information.


Q2: Volunteering

I’ve spent the first three months of this year looking at self-care. Why it’s important and strategies for how to do it. For me friends, exercise, and naps/tv are very important and I’ll always struggle to not feel guilty about taking care of myself. The difference between selfish and self-care can be hard to see but it exists. It’s been wonderful to explore but now it’s time to turn to volunteer. Why do I do it, how can I do it better, and what kinds of things can I do?


This week is National Volunteer Week. Great timing to kick this off (I wish I could say I had planned it that way).

I’ve been volunteering nearly all my life. I started selling Nutcrackers at intermission at the Ballet and stuffing and labeling hundreds and hundreds of letters and invitations to local non-profit events.

Last year I hit 202 volunteer hours which is a little more than a half hour a day on average. This number shocked me at the end of the year. I knew I put a lot of time in but I never went out of my way to log hours. I didn’t volunteer for anything to get credit or to hit some arbitrary number. But the hours added up anyway.

I’ve been volunteering so long and I think I do it without much thought. The next three months are going to change that.


I hope you’ll share your volunteer stories with me.