PanCAN volunteer leaders at an event in Dallas

PanCAN volunteer leaders at an event in Dallas.

Editor’s note: During Volunteer Appreciation Week 2024 (April 21 – 27), three members of PanCAN’s Volunteer Advisory Council, Janice Griffin, Joelle Hervis, and Tripp Razor, spoke with Community Engagement Senior Specialist Paula Mukherjee about serving as liaisons between PanCAN and the volunteer affiliate network. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Paula: How would you describe your role as a Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) member? 

Joelle: We connect the volunteers to PanCAN and vice versa. It’s a way for volunteers to get their feedback to PanCAN so that they’re part of any changes that the organization is making. We also support PanCAN’s mission and help PanCAN relay important information to volunteers. We can provide context about why we’re moving in a certain direction and how they’re supporting those efforts.

Janice: We are the liaisons. We are the sounding board, but not because we are any more qualified or more special than any other volunteer. We are no different whatsoever; we just happen to have a few more meetings!

We are here for the volunteers because we know what it’s like. We’re out there in our communities, so we know what is going on. We get the volunteers to talk about the strengths and needs in their affiliates.

Tripp: About being a liaison – I remember my first Volunteer Summit. I arrived before anybody else from my affiliate. People from the VAC greeted me first and made me feel like I was part of this purple family. I tell new volunteers, “You’re truly not alone. Find us on Facebook or get our business cards and link up with us. You have friends that you don’t know about yet.”

Paula: Are there specific examples of providing feedback or advice, either to PanCAN leadership or to volunteers, that you can share?

Janice: One thing we do as VAC members is think nationally instead of just within our affiliates. That requires some networking. I can tell you some ideas that I have had for the Boston Affiliate that came from, say, the San Antonio Affiliate, or examples of helping other affiliates.

Joelle: Other tangible examples are the work groups we recently started within the VAC. Those work groups were based on the “boots on the ground” situations that we experience.  I’m part of the work group that deals with making community connections that the affiliates identified in their annual action plans.

Tripp: A few years ago, there was an affiliate that had a lot of new people after many long-term volunteers moved on. I was at their PanCAN PurpleStride, along with another volunteer from the Raleigh-Durham Affiliate. We wanted to help them run their PurpleStride event and we read out names, handed out medals, and so on. That is community: we’re going to help you out so everything can go as planned. We’re going to help you thrive.

Paula: Janice, you’ve been on the VAC since 2019, and you’re wrapping up your term as VAC Co-chair this year. 

Janice: I think this is my 12th year as a volunteer with the Boston Affiliate. Over the years, I could see that the VAC had a purpose. I remember talking to the PanCAN Community Engagement leadership and saying, “I want to be a part of the VAC.” I let it go, but a few months later, someone stepped away from the VAC and I got the call. I had the pleasure of working closely with former VAC Co-chair Matt Wilson. Matt and I would talk for hours and hours about where we thought the VAC was and where it needed to go.

Paula: Joelle and Tripp, you’re two of our newer VAC members. How has the experience been so far?

Joelle: I love it. We found out pretty quickly that this is a group that gels together really well. We’re all different: different backgrounds, different affiliates, different ages. It’s a diverse group, but what we have in common is not only our passion for the mission, but also our work ethic. We really believe in what we’re doing, we enjoy it, and we want to make an impact.

It’s been amazing. I was a little scared at first, I will be honest. Tripp can probably co-sign this.

Tripp: Yes!

Joelle: I was a little scared because I’m the Broward-Palm Beach Affiliate Chair and I had just taken on that role after being the communications chair for a while. I thought, “Is it going to be too much?”

But you know what: it feels great. The team that we have is so fantastic, and we are doing work that is supporting our volunteers and making sure they are heard. It’s beautiful to have an organization like PanCAN that allows us to be part of the direction of the mission.

Tripp: I was also scared at first. Excited, but scared. Now that I’m a year and a half in, I feel like I have hit my groove. We all mesh together well. I remember that the first time I met Janice, she made me feel right at home.  It’s been a pleasure. I’m in this because I can’t give my mom a hug any longer, but if I can help someone else keep their loved ones here just a little while longer to give them hugs, that’s what I’m here for.

Janice: I remember in detail the conversations we had when I interviewed each of you. Joelle, you have that spark to you and you’re a connector. When I got off the phone with Tripp I said, “he is the kindest person ever.”

Paula: All three of you are very active members in your own affiliates. How do you make time for it all? 

Joelle: One of the big things that has been extremely helpful is leaning on my team and my staff partner, Senior Community Relationship Manager Addie Flanagan. As an affiliate chair, I’m overseeing an entire volunteer group.

We all have lives outside of PanCAN. We’re respectful of that and we’re able to share the load. If someone has to miss a meeting, people relay the information. It’s really about leaning on your team members, whether it’s the VAC or your affiliate, and being realistic about what you can accomplish. Setting goals is very important.

Janice: I was thinking about how we balance our lives: our careers, our families, our well-being. I’ve had many roles within my affiliate and throughout all of it, my husband has been my best support person ever. For me, it has to come from: can I manage this all with the support of my family? We all know why we’re doing it. We need to figure out our own how. The support is critical.

Tripp: For me, it’s my work family that has been a support. I work for a company that wants you to get out and volunteer in the community.

Paula: In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 21 – 27), what message would you like to share with PanCAN volunteers?

Janice: You are the heart of PanCAN. As volunteers, you are committed to devoting your time and talents to change the direction of this disease. As one, we can only do so much, but together we can make a huge difference for patients! Thank you, and Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week!

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