By Ed Morrone
This week’s HEADstrong/Nick’s House volunteer post focuses on Lauren O’Donnell. Lauren was inspired to volunteer for HEADstrong as a lacrosse mom, and also as an occupational therapist with a desire to help people.
HEADstrong: How did you become involved with HEADstrong?
Lauren O’Donnell: I first learned of HEADstrong because I have two lacrosse-playing children: my daughter played Division I at Drexel and my son played club at Bucknell. Once I heard Nick’s story, I was hooked and knew I wanted to get involved somehow. I’ve known about the foundation for a long time, but as someone who lives in Swarthmore, I started to get involved at Nick’s House once it opened in February.
HS: What was your impetus/reasoning for wanting to devote your time to this specific foundation?
LOD: For starters, being a lacrosse mom provided an instant connection. I’m also a healthcare practitioner, so I’ve got the desire to help people. I had been volunteering for an organization in Chester, but I was looking for something closer and I live two blocks from Nick’s House. Not only that, but my mother-in-law had breast cancer and has since passed. My aunt had cancer, and a very good family friend lost their 14-year-old son to leukemia. As an occupational therapist, I’m comfortable around people who are sick. I’m not afraid of that, and I enjoy building an empathetic relationship with people I don’t know. The people staying here are somebody’s parents or grandparents, and it could happen to me. I would want my family to be cared for and loved like the Colleluori’s do for these families.
HS: How would you describe your volunteer duties at Nick’s House?
LOD: I try and treat people like new next door neighbors. I’ve invited guests to attend exercise classes with me. I’ve gone on walks with guests through Swarthmore’s campus and try to show them the restaurants in town. If they’re going to be spending a month or two here, I try to introduce them to the community and make them comfortable. It’s not my place to provide professional medical advice, so I try to be a friend, someone who will listen. The feedback I’ve gotten is that they enjoy the feeling of normalcy. Maybe for 15 minutes, they can feel like they’re not sick by talking about the Phillies game, or telling me about their grandkids or their lives in general before they got here. I’m not afraid of illness or if a person looks sick, and my ability to connect with people is something I feel I bring to the table.
HS: What are some of the things you enjoy most about your volunteer work?
LOD: These people are all part of a club they didn’t ask to be a part of, and once they’re here they can help each other. They become family immediately. I’m so proud of what HEADstrong does for these families, and I want to spread that news. Once people are here and they see this house, it wraps its arms around you. I’m proud to have it as part of our community. I’m thankful to be in a position to volunteer. My mom is a nurse, so being a caregiver is just an innate part of me. I want my children to follow in my footsteps, to possess the value of volunteering and helping others. This organization has allowed me to give back.
HS: What have you come to love most about Nick’s House and being a volunteer for HEADstrong?
LOD: It’s a home. You can see the relief people express when they don’t have to pay for a hotel for a month. I was here for five minutes recently, and a patient staying here was on the verge of tears thanking me and telling me that coming to stay at Nick’s House was his last hope while undergoing treatment. This could be my mom or dad or sister or neighbor, someone I care about, and in turn I try to give back emotionally. As for HEADstrong, I love Cheryl’s heart, energy and compassion and how excited and entrenched she gets helping these families. She loves every single person who comes through here; she cries with them, laughs with them, and that love trickles down.
HS: How has your experience volunteering for HEADstrong at Nick’s House enriched you?
LOD: It’s shown me that when it comes to cancer, it doesn’t matter what race or religion you are, or if you’re male or female. I want to hug every single one of the people I’ve met through HEADstrong. I love everything about Nick’s House. I have the time, so why wouldn’t I give back?
The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.