BY SHAVANA ABRUZZO | Volunteers have been the heart and soul of our nation since the early colonists helped each other plant crops and survive in the New World. The figures show we continue to rely on one another for aid and comfort through tough times, making selflessness a national pastime.
More than 62 million Americans volunteered more than 7 billion hours last year, reports the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Volunteers are twice as likely to donate to charity as nonvolunteers.
More than 138 million Americans are engaged in “informal volunteering” in their communities, including carpooling, helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, and helping the elderly with shopping or house sitting.
There are many local vollies who go the extra mile for breast cancer patients.
Brooklyn Development Center worker Annette Thomas was a cancer warrior long before she became a cancer survivor, putting her best foot forward in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Walk for more than 20 years before learning she had esophageal cancer during a routine endoscopy in 2008.
“I was called back to the doctor’s office to hear the dreaded words — ‘You have cancer!’ ” said the Canarsie resident, 58, who conquered the disease within a year through surgery and chemotherapy.
The close brush with death gave her a new lease on life, and renewed her desire to keep volunteering.
“It is an exhilarating feeling to know I fought cancer and won!” said Thomas, who plans to walk with family and friends in the Making Strides fundraiser at Prospect Park on Oct. 18.
She is more than happy to walk the walk.
“I am so blessed in my life on a daily basis, so volunteerism is only a small token of my appreciation for what I receive,” Thomas said. “We should help out in any area to make the world a better place.”
Clinton Hill resident Diane Greene, 71, enjoys robust health — she bikes, skis, roller blades and goes dancing each week.
“I am thankful that my body works and that I can use it — it’s a gift and I appreciate that,” said the retired aesthetician, who began volunteering three years ago with the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better and wig-styling programs.
Greene worked for 30 years at Bloomingdale’s, Elizabeth Arden and other top-tier establishments, counting celebrities among her clients. But these days she finds fulfillment in helping cancer patients look and feel their best with free makeup and wig-styling lessons at medical facilities.
“Appearance is everything to a woman,” said Greene, who volunteers at Hematology Oncology Associates in Midwood and the Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene. “We are all hardwired to appreciate beauty, and people react to you in a kinder way when you look nice.”
Women who have never worn makeup before become devotees after a brush with Greene’s expertise.
“You do their eyelashes, put some color on them, and they begin to smile again,” she said. “It really transforms them.”
A breast cancer patient in her early 50s was so moved by her stunning new look that she handmade Greene a pair of scarves in appreciation.
“She said I had done something nice for her and she wanted to do the same for me,” she said. “It made me really happy.”
A world in turmoil is all the more reason to help one another, claims Greene, who has participated in breast cancer walks and provided free makeup for opera singers.
“As humans we should be helping, not hurting each other,” she said. “The success of mankind is that man has always reached out to help other humans, that’s how we’ve progressed.”
“Sheryl’s Warriors” are raring to kick breast cancer to the curb — using 1,400 pairs of steel-nerved feet.
Team leader Sheryl Phillip’s 700-strong squad of foot soldiers has raised $10,000 — and counting! — for research through the Making Strides Walk, in a dream come true for the East Flatbush resident, 39, who two years ago was battling a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that tore through her chest like wildfire.
“I went from being in Stage 1 to Stage 3B in six weeks,” said Phillip, who survived grueling chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, afterward pledging to become a volunteer with the American Cancer Society. “I made a promise to myself that when I got better, I would help someone else as those before me did.”
The youngest of Sheryl’s Warriors is 5 years old and the oldest is 78, but they all stand shoulder to shoulder in their mission to torpedo cancer.
“We have all been touched by this disease, and are walking for someone we love,” said Phillip, who will lead her warriors in the Prospect Park trek.
Volunteers are integral to the healing, she stressed.
“People with cancer don’t like to ask for help,” noted Phillip, who participated in case studies and clinical trials during her treatment. “But we need help, preparing meals and taking care of ourselves. And just knowing that someone is there and willingly helping you is such a relief.”
The anti-cancer drug she takes every day was made possible in part through the fundraising efforts of volunteers, she said.
“I would not be here today, if it wasn’t for monies raised by others for research,” stated Phillip, whose success story is the best pill of all. “It feels wonderful to be a survivor. Knowing that I have won this battle makes me feel great!”