Thursday, July 30, 2015

Volunteers - Cassandra at MD Anderson

Are you considering becoming a volunteer, but not quite sure where to start?  Over the next few weeks, I will shine the spotlight on some of those who can help show you the way.   If it feels a little uncomfortable at first, all the better, time to get out of your comfort zone!  
Grab a friend, and remember, if the doors don’t open the first time, just keep trying, and eventually your gift of giving back will meet someone's need. 

Cassandra Mays is a volunteer on Thursdays at MD Anderson Cancer Research Hospital in Houston.  She and her friend, Janet Kraft drive the “coffee cart” delivering fresh coffee, tea and hot chocolate to patients and their families during their long days at the hospital.  It doesn’t require a special skill, just a smile and willingness to spend her time, making someone else’s day a little bit better.  

This is her story:

“I became an empty-nester in 2014. So, with more time on my hands, I was ready to start accomplishing some of my long-standing bucket list items as well as wanting to also use my time to volunteer for a worthy cause.  After applying to several hospitals in The Woodlands, I found there just weren’t any openings.  One local hospital suggested that if I were willing to commute into Houston, hospitals in the medical district needed volunteers immediately.  I knew that M D Anderson was where I wanted to be.  My experience with MDA began in 1992, when my father was a patient there.  Unfortunately, he did not beat cancer.  He passed away in September 1992.  My desire to help at the hospital comes from my wish that a cure for all cancers will be found.  I also want to be present as a show of support to the patients and their families.  I hope that my kids and the generations after them will not have to deal with cancer the way we do today.  It is a cruel and unpredictable disease.”

“My job at the hospital is the coffee cart.  There are several carts operating everyday 24/7 so in the course of a day up to 15 volunteers are needed.  On the carts is coffee, hot chocolate and hot tea.  We offer our complimentary drinks to the patients and their caregivers.  We also have peppermints that we hand out.  That may not seem like much, but to a chemo patient whose stomach is feeling ill, peppermint is a great soother; and to anyone who is spending a whole day in waiting and treatment rooms, a peppermint can put a smile on your face (not to mention freshness to the breath.)”

 “What I find most rewarding about my job is that the coffee cart represents comfort and warmth.  We put smiles on people’s faces that are going through tough times. Just like chicken noodle soup is a comfort food when you don't feel well or you're missing Mom, our beverages provide the same feelings. I like making people smile and feel good.  That’s just who I am.  Every week, through my whole coffee cart shift, I see people grateful, for a hot drink; grateful for someone who will listen; grateful that someone cares.  That is most rewarding to me.  Because MDA is one of the leading cancer hospitals in the world, people come from all over the world to be treated there.  I have met people from Germany, Greece, South America, Mexico, Canada, and many countries in the Middle East to name just a few.”

“People who are treated at MDA and have to be there frequently, look for the coffee carts.  They know our hot chocolate is the best.  They know we serve them with a smile, as well as a listening ear; and the ones who are there mid-day on Thursdays, know that our cart is always “dressed” in a theme.  Although our dress code includes pants and a volunteer suit-type jacket, we are also allowed a creative license.  When there is a holiday approaching, we wear shirts with either headbands or sunglasses to the theme.  So you may see us with reindeer ears, Easter bonnets, or American flag bling necklaces.  Many times, our shoes reflect celebrations; red, white and blue with stars; Hawaiian flowers, or even Cowboy boots for Go Texan Day.”

“Everyone has something to give, so everyone has time to volunteer.  Whether you volunteer by chairing a charity gala, on a weekly basis with an organization, or on your own - one time, doing one activity, volunteering helps.  It is not only for others, but for ourselves. It is our human nature to feel pride, happiness and satisfaction when we do something good.  I would encourage everyone to find something to volunteer for, even if you do it for yourself.  What you will find is that in the end, you won't be thinking so much about yourself. It is really becomes about the other person, and that is a wonderful feeling.”

Some interesting facts about the volunteers at MDA:  There is a paid staff of about 47 employees at MDA who work in the volunteer services department, making sure all is well coordinated.  There are over 1200 volunteers that work each week.  Volunteering is done 7 days a week.  There are many more jobs than the coffee cart.  There are jobs for every personality type.  If you are shy and introverted, there are administrative type jobs, sorting books in the library, etc. If you are extroverted and like being around a lot of people, you can work at  the coffee cart, concierge desk, or gift-shop.  One of the larger jobs is that of patient advocate.  These volunteers are responsible for checking in on the patients, making sure they have what they need, that communication is good with the doctors, taking them magazines or personal hygiene items, and giving a listening ear.  We also have volunteers who are musicians, playing their instruments in common areas.  You have to audition for that job.  Those are just a few of the jobs available. 

 For more information contact Volunteer Services at MDA
 713-792-JOIN (5646

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tick Tock...

What did you do today to make a difference?  

Do you have some extra time... can you make some extra time?  Our lives can be very busy, but did  you know that:

"People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness... all of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity."

Dr. Mark Snyder
 Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota

Over the next month I will spotlight on some very special individuals who will inspire us and share their stories. And in the process, maybe something will touch your heart and inspire you to get involved!

Share this with your friends, 
and let's make a difference in our community.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park 3/3

Sleeping under the stars

After dinner, we all quieted down and made our way to our individual camp sites where we stretched out on our cot to take in the night sky.  Dusk would fall and one by one the stars would come out. 

First to be noticed was Saturn, then the Big Dipper and the North Star.  As it got darker the layers seemed to unfold and revealed themselves until the stars stretched to infinity and The Milky Way looked like you could reach out and touch it.  I have never seen a night sky like this before and I was in awe….

The next morning everyone was talking about the amazing night sky, so many shooting star!! I apparently fell asleep quickly and missed the show!   So on the second night, I stared into the heavens waiting… and waiting... I saw countless satellites scoot across their orbit, and jets carrying people to other places, but no shooting star and again, I fell sound asleep.  But sometime in the middle of the night, I opened my eyes and bright across the sky, there it was!!  A shooting star, just for me!   I smiled and said out loud, 
Thank you God!

During these days on the river I was in awe of creation, but that shooting star reminded me to think of the Creator.  And Praise Him, and thank Him… for the night sky and the shooting star, for the majesty of the Grand Canyon for this precious time with my daughter…for all of Creation in all of
it's perfection.   I am humbled and privileged to be a part of it.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park - 2/3

A Day on the Colorado River

After ‘coffee call’ and a hot, delicious breakfast, we gathered our gear and boarded our rafts for a day of “river running.”  There were three options for seating -  GOOD: on cushions in the back half, gazing out to the side for majestic views of the rugged cliffs, BETTER (WRE calls it “adventure seating"): on top of the gear boxes, in the middle, perched a little above, with great views all around but with less bouncing and water splash, or BEST (WRE calls it whitewater “gusto” seating): front and center the place to get drenched by the river, experience the highs and lows of each wave, holding on for dear life!  True to self, I started in the middle, but then quickly moved to the front for the full experience.   

Again, I saw such a parallel to my life.  It’s easy and more comfortable to take the back or middle seat, but so much more memorable to ride the waves!  Life is like that…. Most of the time life is calm and comfortable, but occasionally, we hit some white water and get tossed around, splashed and sometimes scared.  The first whitewater was a little scary, not sure what to expect I closed my eyes and put my head down and held on… but as I began to trust “the system” I eagerly anticipated the dips and thrust.  I even looked forward to being smashed with gallons of cold river water on my face, followed by warm sunshine.  I knew the whitewater was temporary and that the calm was just ahead and to just enjoy the ride.  Be in the moment…and it was a thrill!!

For scale, see the tiny speck in the middle of the river
for our companion raft running just ahead of us.

We’d take a break now and then and beach our rafts to take a short hike, have a snack with some time for a history or geology lesson.   I had two favorites excursions: 

The first was our hike in Travertine Canyon at mile 229. We climbed over rocks that required slow and sure footing, up three rope ladders, around the bend into a travertine grotto carved over thousands of years to reveal a beautiful cascading waterfall.  It was such a surprise to find such beauty tucked away.

The other was a jump off the cliff at Pumpkin Springs into the 60-degree water.  It didn’t look that high from the bottom, but standing on the top edge I had second thoughts.  My safe little comfort zone was calling me back until Sarah reminded me “Mom, c’mon, you’re not going to die!” So we jumped!!

One, two, three.... GO!
“My Third Act” is my commitment to live life to the fullest… that means getting out of my comfort zone, opening my eyes to see and experience the beauty and the majesty that surrounds me and to be grateful for the opportunity and give back to others whenever I can.  

And I’m having so much fun!!!

For more photo’s (and photo credit for these) of “Travertine Grotto Grand Canyon” 
Google images

For more information about the geology of the pumpkin springs visit:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park - 1/3

Three Perfect Days in the Grand Canyon

Western River Expeditions
really knows how to roll out the red carpet, or in this case the roll with the Colorado River!   What an incredible three-day journey we had rafting thru The Grand Canyon.

From the thrill of the helicopter flight up the river to our board our "J Rig" Rafts, to the shrimp cocktail and grilled steak for dinner, it was first class all the way.  We ran the whitewater rapids, learned the geology of this unique area, saw Native American pictographs, jumped from cliffs into 60 degree water, hiked to a travertine grotto and waterfall hidden deep within the canyon walls and slept under the stars at night.  More about all of that in my next post, but first things first...

A huge thank you to our incredible guides! 

Evan, Sammy, Kurt and Johnny were experts in keeping us safe, while having an unforgettable and fabulous time.  From 5 am til dusk they worked together to provide a 
"bucket list" experience for all of their guests.

 Evan, giving the group a geology lesson on the majesty of the Grand Canyon
Sammy and Kurt grilling up some
delicious steaks for dinner.
Our wake up call was from Johnny with a
blow thru the conch shell and then the eagerly awaited
call of "Hot Coffee!"

Learn more Western River Expeditions by visiting their website:  
it really doesn't get any better than this!!

Friday, July 10, 2015

National Parks 2/2


In my last post, I mentioned planning in advance for quality time with nature and with loved ones… not just waiting to see when you have time and can squeeze it into your “busyness.”

Each year I plan a mother / daughter trip with one of my two daughters.   This one-on-one time is precious to both of us… a chance to get away, re-connect and see or do something fun together!! 

Today Sarah and I will leave for The Grand Canyon!  This is one national park I’ve never visited and can’t wait to see …in all of its grandeur and majesty!   Rather than gazing deep into the colorful canyon from the rim, we will be riding the waves of the Colorado River for three days, enjoying a little whitewater, spectacular views, and sleeping under the stars at night.  (With a small group and guides, of course!)

Thought for the day: make some plans… with your kids, your spouse, your parents, or that special friend who is on your “I need to call” list.   Meet for coffee or visit the Grand Canyon, it doesn’t matter, just do it!   Time has a way of getting away from us and before you know it, you’ve missed a golden opportunity.  

Go ahead now, pick up the phone….

Mother / Daughter trip 2013
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thursday, July 9, 2015

National Parks 1/2


The Fourth of July was just last weekend but I continue to think of so many things I am grateful for in our country.   Those men and women that founded our country had such wisdom and vision. 

As time went on and settlers moved west and our economy grew, they could foresee all that this nation could be and recognized that civilization, commerce and consumerism could get out of control and encompass our beautiful land.  Our Purple Mountains Majesty and Fruited Plains… from Sea to Shining Sea…. hence, our National Parks were founded. 

Yellowstone was the nation’s first national park, established in 1872.   Now there are 58 designated national parks located in 26 states and two US territories. 
I have been fortunate to have visited 14 National Parks so far… each one unique and I find that it’s always a wonderful opportunity for me to re-connect with nature, celebrate God’s creation and see the unblemished beauty of this great country.

Likewise, sometimes I feel like my life can become over-crowded with “civilization.”  And how important it is for me to designate a “national park” time in my day… a time to set aside, to re-connect with my creator and with my loved ones.  If not, the days turn into weeks and weeks to months and years… and due to "the tyranny of the urgent*" I’ve missed so much of what is really important.   

The National Park System didn’t just happen by accident… it was planned for in advance.  

*For further reading on setting aside time, establishing priorities and taking a spiritual inventory pick up a copy of the classic “Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel, first published in 1967, but still timeless today.