By Elizabeth Madsen, HON’s Director of Nonprofit and Volunteer Relations

The group serving at Hope Lodge.
The group serving at Hope Lodge.

I work at a volunteer resource center – which is amazing and allows me to connect people who want to help our community to other people who could use a helping hand. What it doesn’t allow me to do is spend a lot of time volunteering. Usually. One of my roles at HON is to train and manage the dedicated Volunteer Leader (VL) corps. They are the folks you usually see at projects, making sure that you have the tools that you need, getting you signed in and generally making sure that you’re having a good time AND a meaningful experience. (It’s a big job, isn’t it?) Last month, I was blessed to volunteer four times in one week. The following is an experience I had at one of the projects.

Monday – Dinner at Hope Lodge

Hands On Nashville closes on President’s Day. We run around like crazy men and women on MLK Day, making sure that everyone else’s day off can be put to good use. By mid-February, we are all ready for a little R&R. I started my day off with a workout, then showered and signed into work email to make sure everything was running as it should.

There was an email from Keitha, one of the VLs for Dinner at Hope Lodge. She was emailing to let me know that a number of people were dropping out that afternoon and that she didn’t think we would have enough food for the Hope Lodge residents. She had already called Hope Lodge to manage expectations and was writing just to let me know.

So, I emailed her back, put on my sneakers, and headed to Kroger for brownie mix and veggies to roast. Several hours later, I had made three batches of brownies and two batches of roasted veggies. It was time to head out. In the rain. On my day off.

But, we had a great time. We had enough people and plenty of food, as it turned out. I was glad I went. It’s always nice to get out from behind my desk to see the service that we help make possible come to life. And then, it happened. I first noticed this young couple when we welcomed everyone into the kitchen to serve themselves dinner. They were about my age – I’m 33. They were staying at the Hope Lodge, a free place to stay for people getting cancer treatment who don’t live near Nashville.

It didn’t seem right. People my age shouldn’t be at the Hope Lodge. I put them out of my mind and continued on, making sure everyone had what they needed, bagging up leftovers, getting closer to a little down-time with each step. After all, this was my day off. I hadn’t planned to devote most of it to work. Finally, at 7:15 we were done. Keitha thanked us all and sent us home.

And as I walked out of the kitchen, the guy my age came over, wrapped me in a bear hug, and thanked me. He had expressed his thanks all evening, but this was it for me. My coworkers can tell you that I value my personal space. But as Alex squeezed me tight, thanking me for feeding him and his companion, I fought back tears. Six hours of standing, cooking, serving and cleaning disappeared and all I felt was thankful. I am thankful for my health and thankful that at HON we make these moments possible every day.

EMA native Texan, Elizabeth Madsen serves as HON’s director of nonprofit and volunteer relations. She helps HON’s Nonprofit Partners think about ways to engage volunteers in meaningful service work, manages the Volunteer Leader Corps, and sends you an email every time you sign up to volunteer. (Okay, fine.  A computer does that last part.) Elizabeth is training to complete her first half marathon in June.

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