Friday, June 29, 2012

Be the Match

I know. I know. I was supposed to write about Volunteer Vacations today like I promised.  I will get to it next month, but I was inspired on Monday to write about something else. 

That’s when I was watching Good Morning America and heard the plea from Sam Champion for people to join the Be the Match Registry.  It struck me because I had just joined and gotten my membership card in the mail a couple of weeks ago. 

He was asking because Robin Roberts, one of the show’s anchors, has contracted MDS, short for myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disorder that affects the bone marrow.  Roberts is a breast cancer survivor. 

I admire her for all she’s been through and she is one of the lucky 30 percent that have a sibling with an appropriate match for bone marrow.  But 70 percent of the time, a sibling’s marrow does not match. 

That means thousands of patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases need genetic matches for peripheral blood cell (PBSC) or marrow donation.  That’s where Be the Match comes in.

Formerly the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP) Registry, Be the Match coordinates between patients who need bone marrow or PBSC donations and donors who can provide them.

If you’re interested, you can find out at the Be the Match website how to sign up and get a registration kit sent to you in the mail.  When it arrives, you will use four large swabs (which are kind of like big Q-tips) to brush the inside of your cheeks to collect cells.  You send the swabs in and later will get a membership card in the mail.  That’s it.

They’re especially looking for people aged 18 to 44 who are African American, American Indian, Alaskan, Asian, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino or multiple races. There are some medical guidelines to follow to make sure you’re in good enough health to donate.

Doing PBSC means that blood is taken from your body, processed to take out needed components and then returned.  No surgery is needed and your body feels normal again in a couple weeks.  For bone marrow donation, surgery is done but you will feel normal within three weeks and your body will replace the marrow in four to six weeks.

According to Be the Match, on average about one in every 540 registered donors actually matches someone and is asked to donate. To find out more, read the Be the Match FAQs.  

In the meantime, you can consider what it might be like to save someone’s life.  Many times there’s no cost to join the registry, but they’re always looking for monetary donations. It didn't cost me anything to join.  You might never be asked to donate, or you could be the one who makes the difference in someone’s else’s life. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Furry, Purry and Fun



What’s soft, furry, purry and gives tons of joy to people around the world? Why, cats, of course. I grew up with cats, starting with a Siamese called Cricket to today’s Tiger striped version named Georgia.  We’ve lost two cats in the last five years so it’s with heartfelt memories that I write today’s blog.


Animal shelters around the country are putting on special events all month in June to celebrate, you guessed it, Adopt a Cat Month.  It’s one way to help that I wholeheartedly support because all of the pets we’ve owned have been shelter or neighborhood cats who otherwise might have been killed at a shelter.


These felines have enriched my life and become part of my family over the years.  My son adopted his own cat and named her Georgia for George Washington a few years ago.  Everyone agrees upon seeing him for five minutes with her that he adores that cat.


I think she’s pretty great, too.  She’s a loud one, for sure, waking up in the morning with a meow and continuing it until she gets fed. But she’s also a lover, rubbing up against your legs as cats do and enjoying a good scratch under her chin.  She’s our baby alright.


The American Humane Association (AHA) has ten tips for cat adoption as well as a Twibbon you can put on your Twitter site and Adopt a Cat wallpaper for free on its website.


Finding local shelters is as easy looking up “Animal Shelters” in your local phone book or online.  Petango also offers a pet matching system with a “Pawsonality” Test but when I took it, it didn’t find any pets for me I think because I live in a small town without a shelter.


Besides visiting the local shelter, you can also find cats at PetSmart which works with local animal shelters to adopt out shelter cats.


You don’t have to adopt a new pet to support Adopt a Cat month.  If you already own a pet, then upload a photo or video of him or her to the Hill’s FoodShelterLove’s YouTube channel to help inspire others to adopt. Hill’s is maker of the popular Science Diet and Prescription Diet food for cats and dogs.


The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is having its own version of a Cutest Cat Photo Contest as well. Only through Sunday, you can upload a photo of your adorable feline on Facebook and win one of three $300 prize packages.


The ASPCA has a number of programs from mobile adoption centers to animal-assisted therapy.  It even has a Pet Loss Hotline for those mourning the death of a cat. 


Since it was founded to prevent cruelty to animals, you can also take the pledge to do so on their website.  That means you’ll report animal cruelty, support laws against it and get email regarding the latest animal welfare news.


My son also enjoys going to our local cat shelter (we have one just for cats) to pet and give attention to the kitties. It also has a thrift store which we frequent to provide funds for the shelter.


However you support cats this month, I hope you will do something to make your own life better by loving a cat.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Longest Day

Next Wednesday, June 20th, is The Longest Day fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association in celebration of the dedication and strength is takes to live with and care for people with Alzheimer’s every day. In honor of the Alzheimer’s Association and The Longest Day, I am interviewing Volunteer Services Manager Keelea LeJeune of Alzheimer’s Family Services, Inc and Covenant Hospice. If you want to work with older people, you can contact your local hospice or Area Agency on Aging by visiting www.eldercare.gov or calling 1-800-677-1116 to find ongoing opportunities to celebrate and support older Americans. 
1. Alzheimer's Family Services, Inc. (AFS) provides support to families coping with Alzheimer's disease. Tell us a little about yourself and what services AFS provides.
My name is Keelea LeJeune and I am the Volunteer Services Manager for both Covenant Hospice and Alzheimer’s Family Services in Pensacola, Florida, an agency that provides support to families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. AFS provides many services to the community such as counseling and referral services, a lending library of Alzheimer’s resources and information, support groups, educational series, memory screenings, and much more. To learn more about the services provided by AFS, please visit www.alzfamserv.org.

2. What are some of the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s?

There are many challenges that face caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. What we hear most often is that caregivers are exhausted and stressed. There are daily ups and downs to the disease, and caregivers can’t be sure what to expect, or how long the disease process will last, as changes are often unexpected. Most of all, of course, caregivers are dealing with the profound sadness of losing their loved one and losing the special moments, bonds and shared connections they’ve enjoyed over a lifetime.

3. This blog is about how people can make a difference in the world by helping others. What are the best ways that people can get involved in helping people with Alzheimer’s?

Putting our own time and special talents to work for the good of the community doesn’t have to be difficult; especially with organizations like AFS and Covenant, where volunteering is made easy and designed to fit the needs of the volunteer. When it comes to a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia, there are so many things a volunteer can do to assist the patient and family. Some volunteers enjoying sewing and crafting, so they make “Alzheimer’s Aprons” which keep patients occupied and interested with sounds and textures. Helping to care for the caregivers, who can be exhausted and stressed out, by offering a listening ear over the phone or during a friendly visit or even in a support group setting is a way to provide direct support. Helping to raise money through the planning and execution of fundraising and special events is a great way to help without having direct contact with patients and families, which we know isn’t necessarily for every volunteer. Everyone has a special talent, and it’s my job to put that talent to good use.

4. You are also Volunteer Services Manager for Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, Florida. What does Covenant Hospice do?

Covenant Hospice is Pensacola’s hometown hospice care provider. We’re currently approaching 30 years of serving patients and families in this area. We provide compassionate and comprehensive end-of-life care for anyone who needs us, regardless of their ability to pay. The work our staff and volunteers do here is focused on comfort, dignity, and enabling our patients to get the very most out of every single day. But we don’t just care for the patient; we care for the entire family unit, as well, no matter how that is defined by that patient. I’m proud everyday of the work we do here at Covenant Hospice.

5. What are some of the ways people can volunteer for Covenant Hospice?

Here at Covenant, I am proud to boast about our volunteer program because it has so many diverse opportunities to for the community to give back. We offer volunteers free training, and they can choose to donate their time in an administrative setting, alongside our patients and families, assisting with special events and fundraisers, or in a more specialized setting. One example is our “We Honor Vets” Volunteer Program. The program allows volunteers to work directly with our Veteran patients to make sure they get the recognition they deserve for their service to our country. Another program, “Reflections Journaling,”gives patients an opportunity to share their story and legacy. The volunteer journals the patient’s story as it’s told, and the journal is presented to the patient’s family at the time of the patient’s death. Volunteers can also put their own unique skills to work and suggest their own ideas for how they’d like to volunteer!

6. Have the number of patients you work with increased or do you see it increasing as the population ages? If so, how will you respond to that? Will volunteers play a part?

Volunteers will always play a big role in hospice care. Here at Covenant, we refer to our volunteers as the HEART of our organization. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. The roles our volunteers play are becoming more specialized every day. Veterans connecting with other Veterans, licensed massage therapists, advanced computer skills, and event planners are just a few examples of the specialized roles that volunteers fill here at Covenant Hospice today. As the population ages and more people find themselves seeking the services of Covenant Hospice, we will depend on our volunteers to be there to fill positions in the offices, assist with the special needs of patients and families, and to continue to raise the necessary funds to ensure that each and every patient and family gets the care that they need, regardless of their financial situation.

7. What would you say is the most important thing to remember when volunteering directly with older people?

I believe that volunteering with older adults is one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences out there. Many of these older people live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities in our community where they receive top notch physical and therapeutic care, but what they really long for is that human connection. To give 30 minutes or an hour of your time every week to pop in to visit someone in a nursing home won’t hurt your schedule a bit, and that person will likely look forward to seeing you all week long. I think that the key to being a great volunteer is to not go into it with your own agenda, but let the patient or family tell you what they most need, and help them to meet that need. In that way, we can be sure that we’re truly making a difference for them.

8. What kinds of things have your volunteers told you they like about working with older people?

Volunteers really enjoy working with our older patients. Volunteers forge relationships with our patients and their families, and almost always take something special away from that relationship for themselves. Seniors have so much to offer. They’re a wealth of information and experience, and always have great stories to tell and knowledge to pass along. Respecting our community’s senior population and learning from them is important. Our teen volunteer program allows teenagers to connect with the elderly and learn valuable lessons. Very often, our teen volunteers will tell us that they didn’t realize how much they had in common with the older generation. Just last year at a teen volunteer event, I overheard a conversation between a teen volunteer that was graduating from Catholic High School and a woman who lived in a nursing home that had been in Catholic High’s very first graduating class! Those two chatted for hours!

9.   Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you so much for your commitment to the community via this wonderful blog! I know that there are so many people out there with the time to give that just aren’t sure how to get started. It’s easy to get started or to simply learn more about volunteering at AFS or Covenant Hospice! Call me at (850) 202-0353, email me at keelea.lejeune@covenanthospice.org, or visit our website at www.covenanthospice.org or www.alzfamserv.org.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

What is summer really all about?  I think it’s about enjoying the good weather and spending time with those you love.  One way to do that is on summer vacations and I’ll write this month about Volunteer Vacations that you will be excited to try.  But another way to revel in long summer days and clear skies is do some playing around in your local parks.

KaBOOM has made doing that even more pleasurable with the chance to win a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C.  But I’m not just writing about KaBOOM because of the contest. KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit that does lots of wonderful things in communities throughout the United States.

KaBOOM provides grants for park equipment for playgrounds as well as tools for organization and fundraising for these playgrounds. It also sponsored an initiative to build playgrounds in hurricane ravaged areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita and built over 130 playgrounds on the Gulf Coast. It encourages imaginative play with the Imagination Playground program and community building with its KaBOOM! Community Builds program. 

You can get involved in these programs, but an even easier way to help KaBOOM is to contribute to its Map of Play by sharing, rating and finding new playgrounds in your area. You can do this with your mobile phone or online.  If you find a new park, it will be added to the map and that way we can all find the playgrounds in our area while also identifying Play Deserts in need of play areas.

But back to the contest.  From July 2nd to August 13th, each playground you visit will earn you points. The three top earners will win the trip to D.C. while along the way, you’ll also have mini challenges you can win to earn prizes as you go.

KaBOOM has had a Park-A-Day Challenge for the past couple of years.  This year it has chosen eight families that pledge to take their children to at least 50 different parks this summer, post photos and updates to the Park-A-Day Summer Challenge group on kaboom.org and add or contribute to each playspace they visit on the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder, also known as the Map of Play. 

You don’t have to take the Park-A-Day challenge to enter the contest, but it would sure help put you in the running for the D.C. trips to try and visit 50 parks or a new park every day.

I’m definitely thinking about entering the contest and have signed up for further information.  As a family, we have been wanting to visit our nation’s capital for a few years now.  

So get out there! Take a walk in the great outdoors or bring the kids to slide, swing and play.  Yesterday was the last day of school in my county and the unofficial start of summer. Let the games begin!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hey, You Guys!

The whole month of June is Men’s Health Month so I’m starting the month off talking about men which is a subject most women love.  Like Women’s Health Week and Mother’s Day, Men’s Health Week precedes Father’s Day going from June 11th to 17th and International Men’s Health Week overlaps that a bit going from June 13th to 19th this year.   

What do all these dates mean?  That people around the world know that men need to think more often about their health.  For Women’s Health week and Mental Health Month, I interviewed a women and mental health advocate.  Since I don’t know a men’s health advocate, I decided to take some tips from the well-known and trusted Dr. Mehmet Oz.  He didn’t have a shorter list so here are his top 25 tips for men’s health.

1.  Find a way to laugh, which eases stress, promotes social bonding and lowers blood pressure

2.  Eat breakfast and have some fiber in it, too

3.  Get seven hours of sleep a night to live longer, lower stress, sharpen your memory and reduce food cravings

4.  Check your poop and add fiber and water as needed

5. If you have back problems, bed rest weakens back muscles and prolongs the suffering, so get up

6.  Eat nine fistfuls of colorful fruits and vegetables each day

7.  Floss to get rid of bacteria that can increase your risk of heart disease

8. Take a deep breath through your nose until your lungs are full so they’ll fill with nitric oxide, a chemical found in the back of your nose that opens up blood vessels

9.  Try yoga for greater flexibility, less stress, lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate (and for meeting really flexible women!)

10.  Take a clue from women and make close friends and talk about your problems with them

11.  Instead of trying fad diets, lower your daily caloric intake by about 100 calories

12.  Be a smart patient—seek a second opinion before undergoing any procedure, keep a written medical history, and educate yourself about any family problems

13.  Lose the beer belly and keep your waist at less than half of your height

14.  Drink green tea because of its heart-boosting and cancer-stopping polyphenols

15.  Work up a sweat for one hour a week for a reduced risk of heart attack, better mood and lower blood pressure

16.  Save some money to combat stress related to finances

17.  Have as much sex as possible; it’ll keep you young

18.  Know your blood pressure (which ideally should be below 115 over 75), LDL cholesterol (under 100), resting heart rate (under 70), and fasting blood sugar (under 100)

19.  Spend 30 minutes twice a week lifting weights

20.  Eat nuts to temper hunger and get Omega-3s

21.  Check your testicles for bumps at least once a month

22.  Try dancing to keep you sharp

23.  Exercise to prevent impotence

24. Learn to cook so you can monitor what you eat

25. Take Vitamin D daily which may aid in fighting cancer, diabetes and heart disease

Sometimes the most important way you can help others is to raise awareness.  I hope the above tips are helpful to men everywhere, but there are other things to do to celebrate Men’s Health Month and Week.  For tips on what to do, go to http://www.menshealthmonth.org/ and make a man laugh today!