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Volunteer – it’s a Win/Win

Last week I mentioned the many benefits to your own health and happiness you gain just by being a volunteer. But after researching and writing about it, I wanted to find out myself from people who have “been there” just how it affected them in other ways too. I also promised you I would tell you a story about some amazing ladies I know who have volunteered their time to a charity for over 20 years. Here is their story…

Camp Yellow Bird is a summer camp in Jamaica. It is for children between the ages of 6-18 years old with diabetes, and one I heard about when my own son was diagnosed with the condition. The majority of the children who attend camp are from poor families with little access to support, education or even consistent medical care. In fact, for some children the only time they see the doctor is when they are at camp.

You can imagine, then, how much fundraising must take place for this camp to remain operating. The camp provides food, shelter, medication, education, games and medical care for seven days. The camp was founded in 1992, the brainchild of Violet Griffith. It started as a combined effort of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of Jamaica and the Diabetes Association of Jamaica with technical support from the Ministry of Health. Since 1994 it has run independently and only with unpaid volunteers.

Violet took on the role of building this camp even though she had no one in her family with diabetes. She also began the project while already working full-time. I had the opportunity to visit with her in December 2012 when I took some gifts that she will be able to offer the children at the next camp. It’s been three years since I’ve seen her and she is now retired from her full-time career. She looks younger than ever and yes, she will continue her work with the camp.

Violet says, “Volunteering at Camp Yellow Bird has been a life changing experience for me.” She feels that it has helped her grow and mature both personally and professionally and her growth has earned her a lot of credibility. Apart from doing something that she enjoys it has also helped improve her problem solving skills, her ability to manage a team, and her ability to communicate effectively. It has been a lot of hard work with some sacrifices, frustrations and sleepless nights. But the rewards have been fulfilling for she has seen campers who were doubtful, hopeless and with very little self-esteem become successful professionals, parents and caregivers.

I also spoke to Yvonne Campbell who started working with the camp in 1994 after her daughter was diagnosed with the disease. She says that her work with the camp makes her more aware of the needs of others. And because she feels blessed, her hope is to give back where she can. She also says that her work with the camp has had a very positive effect on her family. They support her when she feels she has taken on too much, not only verbally, but also by pitching in where needed. She thinks it has brought out the best in them all.

And there are many success stories among the campers. I’ll start with my son because for the first year with his condition his father or I had to give him his insulin injections. He finally took charge after his visit to camp. Then there was Nardia who started camp at about aged eight. She did not test her blood sugar because she had no means to do so. Yvonne managed to get a machine and strips donated to her. However, it took many camps and lots of support to get across the full importance of testing and maintenance. As Nardia got older she decided she wanted to be a pharmacist. Through her training and subsequent work as a pharmacist she now realizes how lucky she was to have the support of Yvonne, the other volunteers and donations from Camp Yellow Bird. In fact, she has now become an advocate for proper diabetes management.

Helping out wherever possible is a great idea, everyone wins, especially the self-esteem and self-confidence of the volunteer. When you find an organization you like and work with over time you get to see how your assistance benefits others in the long-term. And that is what Yvonne says, “brings you joy and leaves you wanting to do more.”

Camp Yellow Bird is one of the charities I support financially through my business and my website. You can visit their website here. Donations are always welcome – financial, material and time.

What’s your favorite charity and why? Let me know on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you.

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