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Posts tagged ‘volunteerism’

Local Volunteer Talks Ethics, Advocacy & Why He Chose FIRST

“Ultimately I want to connect the narratives and provide a support system in the same way you do here at FIRST.” Sigfried Aragona, FIRST volunteer

Where would we be without the kindness, compassion and generosity of others? It never ceases to amaze us how people are so moved and inspired by the FIRST community – so much so that they are compelled to reach out and offer their services and skills in any way that might help. This summer, we’ve been privileged to be the recipients of one of these kind and generous souls, a local young man named Sigfried Aragona, who volunteered during his summer break, both last year and this year, at our Colmar national office.

Perhaps you’ve seen him on our Facebook page, because “Sig,” as friends call him, was willing to do just about anything we needed to keep our RAISE campaign thriving, and equally as important, to keep our mission to educate, inspire, and connect all those affected with ichthyosis, alive and well. When he was asked to handwrite the addresses on 200 envelopes and 50 thank you notes, (the mere thought makes my carpal tunnel ache), he said, “Sure sounds good!” In fact, he sat down promptly and got straight to work.  Even when we requested the extreme, Sig obliged with a smile.

“Will you lead our Zumba fundraising marathon?”IMG_0460

“Of Course!” Sig said.  (Note to those considering volunteering – be wary of sharing your hobbies with the girls at FIRST! Ha!)

With his cheerful attitude and overly abundant willingness to help, Sig has been an absolute gem and a blessing for the office, two summers in a row.  In fact, we’ve been in a bit of a “gratitude haze” about Sig. So much so that we had never really asked Sig what inspired him to contact us?  Surely there were other organizations to which he could have volunteered. We didn’t even really know precisely how or why he found us, even though we are eternally grateful that he did.

We sat down with him to find some answers.  We were pleasantly surprised that this kind young man had observed, and subsequently was drawn to FIRST, in the very same way and for the very same reasons as the FIRST staff, members, partners, doctors, and many other volunteers themselves.

But that’s not all. Sigfried Aragona, like FIRST, has a big, beautiful world-changing mission of his own.

How did you discover FIRST?

SA - I am a nursing student at West Chester University. I wanted to volunteer somewhere that was health-related, in the nonprofit arena, and truthfully you popped up at volunteermatch.org as a local advocacy organization.  And I lean towards advocacy because it is a passion of mine. That’s what brought me here the first year. Learning about your mission is what brought me back this time.

Why advocacy versus a clinic or healthcare facility?

SA – The idea of filling in the gaps of health disparities for those who are not getting support of health insurance, health care providers, or other governing voices, is my passion. Later down the road, I’d like to do advocacy for the LGBT community. I’d like to work for a medical organization addressing specific disparities in that community, but I haven’t narrowed that down yet.

I also aspire to complete George Washington University’s LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program, as a part of my post-undergrad education. Policy and ethics is a realm of nursing I am very interested in. And working at an advocacy organization like FIRST will help me to get the perspective of how patient advocacy fits into the ethical experience of healthcare.

Have you made any observations, learned anything new, or had any revelations since you’ve been volunteering here?

SA – Yes, many things. But one thing that stands out to me is that I think it’s interesting that FIRST has a very ambitious and big mission, and has made huge strides, with only six women, working in a small office above a dentist office. It strikes at the core of what advocacy should be. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. FIRST, no doubt, has a purpose – it’s as simple as that.

How was your passion for advocacy inspired?

SA – My passion for advocacy came from my experience as a member of the forensic speech team. The definition of forensic is the dissection of things.  So this team focused on the dissection of ideas. Political, social, and philosophical. The district of the team ranged from New York to Ohio to Virginia. There were poems, interpretive performances, speeches, etc.  So I heard a lot of presentations, in very unique ways, about communities who have not had a voice. I have found an outlet through this speech team community and it opened my eyes to the idea that it is necessary to hear the caliber and the many different perspectives of these issues to really understand. Once you hear these stories you want to do something. You want to help. I now want to turn my career into an advocacy experience.  I want to find my unique place in the world. Ultimately, I want to connect the narratives and provide a support system in the same way you do here at FIRST.

Please join us in thanking Sigfried for his many contributions, as well as all the generous volunteers at FIRST. Your time, talents, and warmth provide support for our community, today, tomorrow and for many generations to come.

And…you, no doubt, have purpose. It’s as simple as that.

Are We Wired for Kindness?

 

As you may already know, FIRST engages in social media, in a plethora of different ways, all in an effort to educate, inspire and connect all those affected with icththyosis.  Some days we are greeted with posts and comments that offer new and unexpected skin care tips – other days it might be a mom looking for support, or an affected person who just wants to have their voice heard. And still at other times, social media brings us to the very doorstep of compassionate souls – ones we likely will never even meet – out there in the world, advocating for our members. 

As volunteering and fundraising are a big part of our efforts to support the community, a few weeks ago we decided to post an online poll to facebook asking followers to tell us, in a single word – what volunteering actually feels like.  Then, we kicked back (only for a minute!) and watched as comment after comment filed in.   So, today after weeks of analogy, contemplation, and discussion, we are happy to announce, that social media has now served us in a new and exciting way.  It helped support a theory; one that we can now confidently and indisputably share with you, right here, right now.

{Insert drum roll} Doing good…feels good!

Yes, that’s it. That’s our theory.  Wait…don’t leave!  We have since found out that our theory is simply a scratch on the surface of a much bigger, broader, biology-based, “do good” theory!  In fact, did you know that there is a biochemical reason for helper’s high?

We’ve even found someone who has dedicated his work and his life to researching this very theory and we are happy to  welcome  guest blogger, Dr. David R. Hamilton, PhD, a friend of FIRST, scientist, speaker and the author of ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ and ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking’, and the creator of the popular blog “Using Science to Inspire.”

 The 5 Side Effects of Kindness

by David R. Hamilton PhD

When we think of side effects the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects too?

Well, it does! And positive ones at that.

1)      Kindness Makes us Happier
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, many people feel that this is because it is the right thing to do and so we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside of us that says, ‘This is who I am.’  On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain and so we get a natural high, often referred to as ‘Helper’s High’.

2)      Kindness Gives us Healthier Hearts
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.

3) Kindness Slows Ageing
Ageing on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are Free Radicals and Inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (that we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and so slows ageing at source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.

There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, as well as regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist’s ‘Loving Kindness Compassion’ meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

 4) Kindness Makes for Better Relationships
This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more ‘bonded’. It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.

Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater were the chances of survival and so ‘kindness genes’ were etched into the human genome. So today when we are kind to each other we feel a connection and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

 5) Kindness is Contagious
When we’re kind we inspire others to be kind and studies show that it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends – to 3-degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.  A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a ‘pay it forward’ type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The ‘domino effect’, as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.

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This information and all scientific references can be found in more detail in my books, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ (Hay House, 2010) and ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking’ (Hay House, 2011).