In honor of the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, we honor super-volunteer Karen Milne, who dedicates her time and expertise to Be The Match®.Show Content
Typically, when someone considers volunteering their time, they align with an organization or cause that has personally impacted their life. For Be The Match skills-based volunteer Karen Milne, the opposite scenario occurred – with no prior connection to the mission, she started volunteering her time and talents to Be The Match, and has impacted the organization and our employees in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
It all began when Karen retired from her career of 31 years as a legal assistant in a downtown law firm and knew that she wanted to spend her days volunteering in some capacity. Looking for opportunities to help, she thought of the NMDP/Be The Match as her firm had represented both for a few years. Mutual friends between her previous employer and Be The Match Foundation led to a phone call and quick realization that Karen would be a perfect volunteer for the annual Be The Match Gala. With experience in planning large events and campaigns, what started out as an intent to sporadically volunteer in her free time has led to an annual four-month commitment to organizing the Be The Match Gala Auction.
Working to help the present and future
Since 2013, Karen has given over 580 hours of her time to helping organize not only the Annual Gala’s auction, but also to mentor Be The Match Foundation service interns. Often referred to as “The Great Connector” among Foundation employees, Karen is able to lead the service intern team over the summer in assisting with the upcoming Gala, and connect their work with that of the core Foundation team. Her leadership has allowed the service interns to thrive, and gain valuable experience each summer in their work with the Foundation.
“By example, my parents taught me to always give back. This is a meaningful way to fulfill giving back. There is an anonymous quote that says, ‘A person’s most valuable asset is not a head full of knowledge; but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen and a hand willing to help others.’ I want to always be that person and Be The Match helps me do that,” Karen says.
The Exception to the Rule
A typical volunteer for Be The Match gives approximately 17 hours per year, ranging in positions from in-person registration volunteers, event-day volunteers, and volunteers like Karen – who help with event preparation. Each year, Be The Match Foundation looks for volunteers they refer to as “Go Getters” to work on the annual gala. Being a “Go Getter” is more of a state of mind than anything. They are motivated individuals who go out of their way to make an impact on the service they’re offering.
While Karen technically volunteers as a “Go Getter”, her contribution of time and expertise goes far beyond the expectations of the role – she is the epitome of “the exception to the rule”. While she knows that she is in no way obligated to help out as much as she does, Karen still spends hours each year dedicated to the Be The Match mission – which includes spreading awareness. Her contributions are irreplaceable, and appreciated more than she knows.
Want to get involved too?
If you’re looking for ways to support Be The Match, volunteering for an event like the annual Be The Match Gala may be perfect for you! If you’re in the Twin Cities area, check out our Gala Volunteers page. You can also visit BeTheMatchVolunteer.org for information on other opportunities.
As told by Jeff, donor and advocate
“Save this girl’s life and I’ll be an advocate to the cause for the rest of mine.” This was the short prayer whispered just before I was anesthetized to harvest my bone marrow that was perfectly matched to a sixteen-year-old girl fighting leukemia. Eight years later, I’m please to share that my recipient, Kim is living life to the fullest with my adopted immune system. 100% engrafted and cancer-free!
Within a few days of the procedure life returned to normal, but my appreciation for it was different. Somewhere out there was a young lady fighting for her life and I knew that her family was asking themselves the same questions that I was. Were my cells good enough? What would happen if they weren’t? At the very least I knew that the procedure would give this family something that they had longed for, which has been confirmed by countless other families fighting a blood cancer. For many a bone marrow transplant can be a cure, but for all it provides hope.
To me, a bone marrow transplant is the perfect fusion of fate, science and miracle. Fate, to know that a compatible stranger chose to join a bone marrow registry; science, to facilitate the process; and miracle, to know that these life generating transplanted cells can alter the course of another person’s mortality. Believing this – I had to get involved further.
I started my advocacy at marrow drives, lending a hand to dismiss the fears about the donation process. As we all benefit from talking to others with firsthand experience; attending these drives helped educate and answer questions of those interested but concerned about the procedure. Several people join the registry, as I did, for someone they know who is in need of a transplant. At these drives, I help folks see the “Pay It Forward” concept. Although you may not be a match for the person you know, you could be for someone else in need, just as another person joining at another drive somewhere out there may be a match for your acquaintance.
I am involved with the CIBMTR (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research) which is the research program of Be The Match. As a consumer advocate, I’ve participated over the last five years helping to translate information, such as outcomes from a clinical trial into a readable format for the typical lay person to understand. It was an honor to be asked this past year to co-chair this advocacy group.
I’m also very proud of the money raised by co-chairing a local Be The Match Walk+Run event for the past three years. These events bring together survivors, caregivers, patients and donors to celebrate victories, honor those lost and help recruit new potential donors to the registry.
Finally, I take the most pride in my volunteering efforts as a stem cell courier. The transplant process is a logistical orchestra of physicians, scientists, lab techs, collection center personnel and transplant hospital staff all coming together for a patient in need. It is a privilege to hand-carry these coolers containing someone’s “second chance” from their altruistic donor to their intended recipient. A trained volunteer courier is as close as it gets to being Santa Claus.
If you read this chances are you’re already somehow involved with the cause. Mine are but a few of the many ways to help and I encourage all to engage. Maybe it’s writing to congressional members in support of NMDP/Be The Match’s legislative activities; or it’s reaching out to a local recruiter and helping in your community. Whether you’re a caregiver, a long term survivor or a fellow donor – we all have unique experiences that are vital to the next patient in need. As for me, I’ll keep holding up my end of that prayer.