By Ed Morrone
Beginning this week and stretching into the weeks and months to come, HEADstrong will be taking a closer look at some of the foundation’s volunteers, most notably at Nick’s House. The inaugural post highlights Marty Spiegel, a Swarthmore resident and the town’s former downtown coordinator. In his career, Marty has also owned a home inspection company, but his real passion lies in philanthropy and volunteer work after working in the social services field for almost two decades:
HEADstrong: How did you become involved with HEADstrong?
Marty Spiegel: My involvement started as the downtown coordinator of Swarthmore’s business district when HEADstrong started looking at this property as the site for Nick’s House. I had significant interest not only for my job, but as a resident. I went to the municipal and zoning meetings and was supportive of them before I even got in there. Every impression I had was that it was a really special program, and Swarthmore is fortunate to host something as beneficial as Nick’s House and what it’s turned out to be. Then I became interested in more hands-on volunteering and have been involved one way or the other since the outset.
HS: Why devote your time to specifically help HEADstrong?
MS: I got my Masters in social work and worked in social services with people who have developmental disabilities for 16 years. Once I segued into retirement, I wanted to use my business and social work background to do something more people-oriented. I got married and moved to Swarthmore in 1990; my wife is a public school teacher and we have no children, so becoming heavily-invested in the community and volunteerism is kind of what we do. I’m an absolute advocate of everything that goes on here.
HS: How would you describe your volunteer responsibilities at Nick’s House?
MS: The patients and caregivers are fairly self-sufficient, so I just add support. I live here and know Swarthmore well, so I orient them to the community and am a good resource and liaison between HEADstrong and the patients; just spend time chatting and letting them know there are people out there who really care about them. They are so grateful for the ability to be in this house, because for some they wouldn’t be in Philadelphia receiving treatment if not for the availability of Nick’s House. I can’t imagine how it feels to them going through this horrendous process never knowing what’s at the other end. They may feel lousy, but at least they have a place to go that’s not a hotel room. Being here is the highlight of my week.
HS: Cancer obviously impacts and affects us all — why is it important for you to give back to the cause?
MS: It’s hard to find any individual not touched by cancer. It’s so widespread, and we’ve all been through it or have family members who have. Many of us have family members who have endured similar situations without the advantage of Nick’s House. It’s a much-needed service provided for incredible people who are going through this. I have a drive to give back, and doing good is part of who I am. The fact that I can do it so close to home in this setting is a blessing. It’s a beautiful place, and the strength and resilience of these families is inspirational. I’m impressed by how much they go through and are still able to persevere.
HS: In your eyes, what makes HEADstrong truly unique?
MS: One of the strengths of Nick’s House is that it not only offers a place to live, but it puts the patients and caregivers in contact with other people who are dealing with similar circumstances. It’s hard for people not going through a cancer diagnosis to truly understand. Being here with others going through cancer can be invaluable, beneficial and therapeutic. They can commiserate and emphasize; talk, share, laugh and cry. They do all of that together, and it’s an amazing part of the program that I feel so strongly about.
HS: How has this volunteer experience enriched and fulfilled you?
MS: It’s great to be appreciated, but I don’t do it for any accolades. It’s important to me this time in my life, more so than being paid. As far as I’m concerned, our jobs are easy; they are carrying the heavy loads, so it is gratifying to hear them say they appreciate the house and what it’s done for them. I’m happy they feel that way, and I work my hardest so that when they leave here, their experience was made more positive by what myself and other volunteers have done for them.
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.