Ten years ago, Senior Corps-RSVP members Ellen and Wayne Takagishi began looking for ways to volunteer locally. They ran into trouble because they spend six months of the year out-of-state. “Many organizations didn’t know what to do with us,” Ellen said. Then they learned about LifeSource.
The Takagishis interviewed with Eva Donoghue, LifeSource’s Volunteer Services manager. “We knew from the start we found our place.”
Eva agrees, “I remember clearly the day I interviewed them and that exact thought entered my mind…we are lucky. They have a delightful sense of humor. They make our donors feel appreciated and special.”
LifeSource serves as a lifeline between those who are in need of blood in the Chicago area and those willing to donate it. It also provides blood products and services in northeast Illinois and serves as an international resource for rare blood types.
For the past ten years, the Takagishis have participated in LifeSource blood drives at high schools and local businesses. As with most LifeSource volunteers, they are responsible for refreshment setup and recovery areas, monitoring donor safety, assisting with traffic flow and, most of all, giving a big “thank you” to the donors for helping to meet the constant need for blood donations in the community.
But more than that, they enjoy their work and the friendships they’ve made over the years. Wayne recalled a time at the end of a busy day when a five-year-old boy came up to him to say thank you for helping get blood for him and shook Wayne’s hand.
The couple feels a special connection to the donors at the high schools. Some are Ellen’s former students, now teenage blood donors. “Many come to save lives,” she said. “Some donate for service credit, personal reasons or for family and friends. So many become donors for life.”
Another Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer, John Allworth, joined LifeSource in 2011 and, like the Takagishis, enjoys caring for high school donors. He talks with the students after they’ve gone through the donation process, giving them cookies, cheese crackers, or juice. “They’re good kids,” he said. “That’s what I come back for. I enjoy hearing about their goals, future plans. Some will go into the military, others want to further their education.”
John educates the students on post-donation care, the importance of giving blood and its impact. If first-timers seem hesitant, he tries to help them overcome their fears by telling them, “Be proud of yourself for what you’re doing.” In this way, he serves another purpose, building donors for life.
It’s a little quieter in the corporate sector, John says, where he volunteers in the summer when kids are out of school. He’s participated in drives sponsored by the Blackhawks and has become friends with many of the regulars who donate every year.
He recalled one family of regular donors that brought their young daughters along to expose them to the value of giving blood so others may live. One daughter said she couldn’t wait till she reached sophomore year when she could finally give.
“Some people I’ve known for a long time come to the recovery area first just to say hi to me before they even register,” John said.
About seventy area seniors volunteer currently but more are needed, especially at corporate, community and, high school blood drives throughout the city and suburbs. Those who are service-oriented, outgoing and, energetic will find that giving their time at a LifeSource blood drive is a great way to meet people and make an impact on so many lives.
The staff has an immense appreciation for their work, “We needed our volunteers today like we needed the air to breathe,” said one staff member.
“Our volunteers are such a pleasure to work with…great interactions with the donors who really benefit from their care. These folks are truly needed. We depend on them,” said another.
The feeling is mutual, according to John. He finds the LifeSource people considerate, appreciative, and dedicated to the importance of blood donation. “They’re committed to it one-hundred and ten percent.”
“We want our volunteer blood donors to know how special they are,” Eva said. “Our Donor Appreciation Representatives help ensure a positive experience.”
Gwendolyn, a heart transplant and blood recipient, said it best, “I am only here because someone said yes to a local blood drive, yes on an organ donation form, and yes, I’ll be a LifeSource volunteer. I assure you I know how much you do…and I thank you from the bottom of my brand new heart.”
Adapted from the Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service by Senior Corps-RSVP Member Janet Souter