April is Volunteer Appreciation Month and we at JoyRx, the mission delivery of Children’s Cancer Association, are so grateful for our volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to do our healing without the dedication and kindness of our amazing volunteers.
To highlight the impact of these supporters, we sat down with Ed Burke, who’s volunteered with us since 2012, to learn about his experience as a JoyRx Mentor.
How did you first learn about JoyRx? What inspired you to start volunteering for us?
In 2011, I was going through cancer treatment and was home sick often. One day, I was on the couch and started watching the annual JoyRx telethon fundraiser.
I’d never heard of JoyRx before, but as I learned more about the Mentorship program, I was inspired. I knew what it was like to go through chemo and loved the idea of helping out, so I called right then and there.
What really solidified the importance of volunteering for me was becoming a JoyRx Mentor in 2012. My first match was a 12-year-old named Grant, who passed away in December of that year. But in that short time, this really good kid left a big impact on me.
I remember one moment in particular: about one week before Grant passed away, his mom came in while Grant was sleeping. She was upset and crying, but then Grant snapped awake and goes, “Mom, knock it off. It’s not like we didn’t know this was going to happen.”
That acceptance of this horrible thing really struck me. The fact that he didn’t want anyone to be sad stuck with me.
I don’t know if I’d still be doing this if not for Grant. He was such a good kid.
Why do you volunteer?
I was always involved with my kids’ sports. I loved coaching and going to games and doing all that — and I got used to that. Once they graduated, I needed something to keep me busy.
Once I got involved, I was inspired: I love the people I meet when I volunteer — not just the kids but the other volunteers, too. The other volunteers are such good people and it’s inspiring to be around such wonderful people who are trying to make the world better.
I think it’s important to give back.
What is a highlight or memorable experience you’ve had volunteering for JoyRx?
Grant. Definitely getting to know Grant.
I have one particular experience that really sticks with me: during the time that our match was officially “graduated” from the mentorship program, I was still in close contact with Grant and his family.
We knew he’d pass away soon, and his parents were doing every fun thing they could possibly do with him. So, we arranged a trip in a friend’s motor home. We stocked up with all this great food, donuts, and coffee (even at 12, Grant loved coffee!), picked up the whole family and drove to the Oregon coast. We got a boat on the water and went crab-fishing all day. We had a huge bonfire and barbeque when we came ashore.
It was a wonderful day for Grant. It was a day where he could just have fun.
We didn’t catch many crabs but we had so much fun trying. We let Grant pull almost all the pots. His arms were sore but the smile on his face was worth more than any crab we could have possibly caught.
Of course, I have amazing memories with each child I was matched with. I have so many great stories and memories of each kid; I could easily talk for hours about each one, so I’ll restrain myself and keep it to that.
What impact has volunteering had on your life? In what ways do you feel you’ve impacted JoyRx and the kids we serve?
It’s different with every kid. I’ve been a mentor seven times and every kid is unique. There are some matches where we instantly gel and we talk and banter, while others take a bit more time to warm up.
I’m matched with a young man right now where it’s a very different experience. He’s quiet and we just kind of hang out, watch movies. Sometimes he wants to talk but he doesn’t open up a whole lot. I understand, though — he’s gone through a whole lot.
My goal as a mentor is to just make a couple of hours a little better. Even if it’s just sitting around.
My approach is always, “You’re my boss, dude. Tell me what you want to do. If you want to just sit here in silence, that’s what we’ll do. If you want to do something, we’ll do that. It’s up to you.”
How would you describe the experience of being a JoyRx Mentor?
It’s an amazing experience. I’ve been a mentor to kids as young as five and as old as eighteen. It’s fun to work with the younger kids because they don’t know I’m not cool (haha).
Some of the kids have situations that are tougher but that sometimes leads to the best friendships. I was matched with one kid who was pretty challenging the first few visits but when I look back on it, it was one of my favorite matches.
The young man I’m working with now is also in a tough situation. But we’ve had a couple of really small, good moments. Those tiny moments mean so much.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to volunteer for JoyRx?
One: Jump in!
Depending on what you want to do, that’s one of the good things about JoyRx: there’s so much you can do! You’re not pigeonholed into doing just one thing.
Two: Don’t be afraid.
My very first mentorship match meeting in 2012, I was so nervous and didn’t know what to expect. But at the Mentorship training, I received a great piece of advice: Just be yourself.
Don’t be afraid. Just jump in and be yourself.
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