February 2014 Volunteer of the Month
The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter supports over 850 people with Lou Gehrig’s disease in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware at any given time. That number only tells part of the story though. Instead of seeing a list of names and treating families like another statistic, the Chapter strives to treat every person with dignity, respect and kindness. In order to accomplish this goal, we depend on volunteers who personify that mission.
Volunteers like Sara Brown.
Sara uniquely understands the struggles that ALS families face, physically, financially, and emotionally. Three years ago, Sara lost both of her parents within two days of each other. Her mother passed away from breast cancer and her father lost his battle with ALS. She was just 25 years old and in those 25 years, her parents instilled the kindness and living spirit that our ALS families seek out when faced with a terrifying disease.
“My parents always did what they could to help others out, even if they themselves were struggling,” said Sara. “But most importantly, they shared a life between each other that was admirable. It taught me that through love, you can persevere through any trial or tribulation.”
Watching her parents battle through such horrible diseases made Sara yearn to raise money for research and to help others. After her parents passed away, Sara called the Greater Philadelphia Chapter to see how she could get involved. The ALS caregivers at the Certified ALS Treatment Center at Penn State Hershey Medical Center welcomed Sara with open arms. Every year, the Hershey clinic team raises money for the Hershey Walk to Defeat ALS® and they pride themselves on bringing in volunteers and families to make their team one of the best overall year in and year out. Sue Walsh and Maureen Reid from the clinic invited Sara to join them in their Annual Flower Sale, where she organized and helped them raise money for the walk team. Sara was happy to give back, and Maureen Reid, one of the nurses at the Hershey Clinic, saw how outgoing and friendly their new helper was and informed her about the Chapter’s Visiting Volunteer program.
It would be perfectly understandable for somebody who lost two parents in quick succession to want to do her volunteer work quietly and to not get too directly involved. Many people do just that and contribute wonderfully to the success of our Chapter. However, when Maureen showed Sara a picture of Ken Limbert, a local person with ALS, Sara saw that his smile and personality just radiated through the photograph. To be a visiting volunteer felt right from the start.
“From the beginning, as much as Ken found a blessing in me, so did I in him,” said Sara.
As Sara and Ken began to know each other more, they found that there were many similarities between his life and the lives of her parents. Some of the similarities were too good to be true. As a result, not only was Sara able to make a new friend and build a connection with a person with ALS, but she was able to maintain that strong bond with her parents and remember them in a deeply meaningful way. Sara’s role as a Visiting Volunteer has been to help Ken with things he needs, like getting food, assisting him with daily tasks, or just being a friendly voice when things seem rough. Through their frequent meetings, Sara felt that she was not only his volunteer, but she was becoming part of his family.
“I believe in always finding the positive in every negative, and had I not lived through the experience I had with my parents, I would potentially had never met Ken,” said Sara. “It is equally rewarding for me to help make someone else’s life better, even if by only sharing a little love and compassion that my parents instilled in me.”
Sara’s outreach as a volunteer for Ken, a person with ALS, exemplifies the Chapter’s spirit of treating every person with ALS as a human being of worth and dignity and not just another statistic of a terrible disease. In return, Ken and others like him are able to return the favor. The Greater Philadelphia Chapter depends on hundreds of amazing volunteers all year round and as our February Volunteer of the Month Sara Brown proves, they aren’t just statistics either, but are instead part of the heart and soul of all we do.