Tangerine Zielinski is dressed in pink — bright pink.
Bright pink wide-brimmed hat with lace. Bright pink glasses with pink lenses. Bright pink patterned tunic. She stands in dazzling contrast to the drizzly, gray October day outside.
“By dressing up, it seems to brighten up people’s days one way or another somehow,” she says.
Zielinski is a 14-year volunteer with the American Cancer Society’s Nashville Hope Lodge. The Hope Lodge, located just outside downtown, provides a home away from home for cancer patients and their caregivers while they are in town receiving treatment. The Hope Lodge provides lodging, transportation, and activities for its guests free of charge. Volunteer groups provide meals throughout the month.
Zielinski got started as a volunteer at the Hope Lodge when the facility opened in 2004. She says her own battle with lymphoma of the intestines in 2001 led her to want to volunteer with cancer patients.
“Cancer … awakened me to the value of life,” she says. “Having been through cancer, I know how rough it can be. I know what it can do to you and your body. I know some of the emotional sides to it.”
Zielinski says it’s important to make guests feel as relaxed as possible while they’re staying at the Hope Lodge. As a shuttle driver, she takes guests to and from appointments at hospitals, treatment centers, and imaging centers. When there’s time, she says, she will take them to the grocery store.
When a guest gets into her shuttle, Zielinski will often ask what kind of music they’d like to hear. She keeps nearly 3,000 songs on her phone.
“To get their minds off of cancer for but even a few minutes is, for me, very gratifying,” she says. “It makes my heart sing when I hear them hum in the backseat or sing along with a song.”
Michele Ryan, senior manager of the Hope Lodge, says that volunteer shuttle drivers are a crucial part of making a Hope Lodge guest’s stay more comfortable, as many of them come from out of town and are unfamiliar with how to get around Nashville.
“After a long day of treatment,” Ryan says, “no one wants to tackle traffic. They just want a comfortable and safe ride back.”
Zielinski says that throughout her 14 years as a Hope Lodge volunteer, what has really sustained her is knowing that she’s having an impact in the lives of people going through the most difficult challenge of their lives.
“Just to see the gratefulness that comes from the guests that come through the Hope Lodge is what really keeps me coming back,” she says.
The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge program mission is to provide a free home away from home for cancer patients and their caregivers. Browse all volunteer opportunities with the Hope Lodge here.