A Kid Again
Begun as an all-volunteer organization, A Kid Again still accomplishes most of its work to families of kids with life-threatening diseases with a committed volunteer force over 1,200 strong.
Organization Empowers Volunteers to Help Sick Children Be … A Kid Again
In 1982, when A Special Wish in Columbus began granting last wishes to children with terminal diseases, medical care for illnesses such as childhood leukemia provided little hope for recovery. In fact, when Jack Hanna came to Columbus in 1978 to run the Columbus Zoo, he was also seeking treatment for his daughter, Julie, who had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Out of the 12 kids on Julie’s hospital floor with ALL, only two—Julie and one of her friends—survived the disease. Today, closer to ten out of twelve children with ALL will make it. But the treatments for this and similar diseases can last on and off for as many as ten years.
So after spending 14 years at A Special Wish, Jeffrey Damron and a group of caring individuals decided to start A Kid Again, an organization with whose mission is to walk with entire families through the often long process of facing a life-threatening illness. A Kid Again now sees the adventures they offer as goals and rewards that encourage the children and their families to persevere with the exhausting treatments necessary to heal them. Whether it is a day at Kings Island or Cedar Point, or a father-son clinic with the OSU basketball team, they hope parents will be able to say to their sick child and his or her siblings, “Just work hard for one more week and then we’ll all get to do something special together.” This long-term approach requires many volunteers to give time and relational support to these families.
Damron, CEO of A Kid Again, says their approach to volunteers is very basic: “We recruit some of the most passionate, caring people in the known universe, and then we empower them to serve our children with life-threatening illnesses, their siblings, and their parents.” When the volunteers get to know these brave kids and families, their lives are enriched beyond anything they give. And they in turn invite their friends to volunteer with them.
While A Kid Again and its volunteer coordinator, Kathy Derr, are convinced their mission is what makes recruiting volunteers fairly trouble-free, they do implement a number of practices that also contribute to their success in recruitment and retention. They make it easy for volunteers to navigate their organization and its needs. Their website has a user-friendly section where volunteers can click on links that allow them to fill out an application, find out about meetings, and share their experience as a volunteer. Once a month A Kid Again hosts a meeting to update and encourage their volunteers. “We respect and value our volunteers,” adds Derr. “We listen and incorporate their thoughts and ideas into our programs, empowering them to be successful.”
Damron says A Kid Again strives to use volunteer labor whenever possible in order to spend a greater portion of funds directly on programs rather than staff salaries. Most of their volunteers come to them through word of mouth, but A Kid Again has also found creative ways to tap additional resources in the community. For example, they partner with Kohl’s department stores in the “Kohl’s Cares” program, wherein five or more employees will be sent to serve at A Kid Again’s local events. The firm also donates $500 to the nonprofit. A Kid Again receives about $10,000 a year and many volunteer hours through this partnership.
About 85 percent of volunteers work directly to serve kids and their families at events or raise money for those events. When A Kid Again hosts a day at Kings Island, volunteers register attendees, serve lunches, and even go on the rides with kids when their parents can’t. Volunteers also do most of the work to pull off the nonprofit’s yearly gala, a fundraising event that hosts 500-700 people and raises about $250,000.
The organization also empowers volunteers to take on core responsibilities. For example, rather than tasking paid staff members to work on the organization’s recent rebranding efforts, two board members–one from Cincinnati and one from Columbus—are doing that work. A forthcoming fundraising event being planned for May 2014, at which the nonprofit hopes to raise $400,000-$500,000, is completely volunteer-led. “We put up some guard rails,” says Damron. For instance, if any decisions are made that might waste donor funds or not be good for the kids, he tries hard to make suggestions in a way that encourages new ideas and continued participation.
Damron says that A Kid Again’s volunteers “Believe in the organization, know where the money is going, and are actively involved in serving the kids face-to-face. It is enriching their lives.” In fact, the organization used to hold a volunteer appreciation dinner at the end of each year and pay a caterer to provide the food. When volunteers found out, they said they didn’t want money raised for the families to be spent that way. So the event is now a potluck. “I brought my wife’s seven-layer salad and I’m the CEO of the company,” says Damron about this year’s dinner.