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National Volunteer Month: The Importance of Volunteerism

by Rachael Gartner

Rachael Gartner serves as the Administrative & Grants Associate at harp-weaver LLC.


Each April, National Volunteer Month recognizes the contribution of volunteers, and invites people to make an impact in their community through volunteerism.  While it is evident that volunteering benefits nonprofit organizations and the communities that they serve, what may be less obvious is the impact that service has on the lives of volunteers. 


Over a decade ago a friend invited me to join her in organizing a 5K fundraiser for Lisa’s Army.  Her close family friend, Lisa, had just lost her battle with ovarian cancer at the age of 24.  Throughout her battle with cancer, Lisa Loonstyn-Golden saw and experienced the physical and mental tolls imposed by the disease.  As she underwent treatment, her heart went out to others in her position. Lisa sought ways to remind those with cancer that they were not alone.  She began to leave small gifts behind for others in treatment, and, from this small gesture of kindness, Lisa’s Army was born.


Lisa’s Army has gifted over 3,500 Comfort Care Packages to men, women, and children undergoing cancer treatments in the Greater Philadelphia Area since 2014.  These packages contain small gifts, like eyebrow pencils, queasy pops, warm socks, and coloring books.  They also contain large gifts, like iPads or Beats headphones, that allowed those undergoing treatments to facetime with family members during the pandemic. Lisa’s family and friends were heartbroken by their loss; but what they did with that sadness changed my life and touched the lives of so many people battling cancer. 


In 2014, we set out without a playbook to plan our first 5K. In the decade since, we have learned about web design, marketing plans, e-mail campaigns, course certification, and city permits.  We have set up tents in the pouring rain, grown event participation, pivoted to virtual events during COVID, and, recently, settled on a new location so that we have room for more growth.  Most importantly, we built a community.


Our team has met countless cancer fighters, cancer survivors, and cancer caregivers over the last 10 years.  We listened to stories of how Lisa’s vision, and the community built by her Army, has given hope to those who felt hopeless.  Each day I am touched by the resilience of this community of survivors and by the hope of those who have experienced great loss. I never had the privilege of knowing Lisa, but her humor, resilience, and kindness lives on in those who loved her and in the lives they touch.

My journey with nonprofits began with did not end with Lisa’s Army.  Volunteering opened a window into the nonprofit space, and I found another wonderful community at harp-weaver.  Now, I work with funders to bring nonprofits the funding that they need to do meaningful work. I go to work each day and feel like I am a part of something bigger.


Volunteering with Lisa’s Army has made me a better person, taught me valuable skills, and serves to remind me each day how fortunate I am. Ten years ago I said yes to a friend, not knowing that it would set my life and career on this meaningful path. I am not alone, studies have shown that volunteerism is a key to a healthy lifestyle.  Volunteering provides us with much needed connection, reduces stress, increases happiness, and brings personal fulfillment. This National Volunteer Month, I encourage you to get involved with a cause that is important to you. 


To get involved with Lisa’s Army visit www.lisasarmy.org or find a cause that is important to you at https://www.volunteer.gov/s/.  

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