extra life

Sharon Whitaker is Lead Development Coordinator at the UVM Medical Center Foundation.

I am not particularly adept at games and strategy. I like playing games, but don’t even really care about winning or losing.

So, why have I participated in Extra Life for five years?

When I was in college, one of my friends from school got cancer and within a matter of months, she was gone.

She was an ambitious, bright person who graduated early from high school and college and had been working in Africa teaching children. I remember thinking to myself when she passed away – what have I done in MY life that would make her proud to call me a friend? But, life is a funny thing and bills have to be paid, so I got a job to pay the bills and just tried to do the best I could – volunteering occasionally to help people less fortunate than myself, but not really going out of my way to do it.

When I saw an advertisement eleven years ago for a position supporting fundraising for our local children’s hospital, I jumped at the chance to come to the UVM Medical Center because I still wanted to make a difference.

By then, I was a mother and my life was busier than ever, but that question from long ago came back to me – what have I done in my life that would make her proud to call me a friend?

And so I worked for the UVM Medical Center Foundation, staffing bowlathons and motorcycle rides, golf tournaments and the Big Change Roundup for Kids. This last event opened my eyes. At least once a day during that event, we have someone come up to our table with a child and the words are heartbreaking and awe-inspiring at the same time – “this child would not be here if it wasn’t for UVM Children’s Hospital.”

We aren’t just helping “kids” we are helping THIS child, a child in OUR community.

As a mother, I am so very thankful that my son is healthy and has not required the UVM Children’s Hospital and it is reassuring to know that it is there if he did need it. But through the years, I have met so many kids who HAVE had to use the hospital, from the boy who knew he was dying of cancer whose only concern was how to help his mom after he was gone, to the countless kids who have gone through dozens of surgeries and procedures and actually look forward to coming BACK to the hospital. They are some of the strongest, bravest people you will ever meet. These are true heroes in this world.

A second set of true heroes are the staff who care for these kids.

But care is expensive and, often, the little things are so very important. About 6 years ago, I spent a few weeks in the hospital myself. It is a terrifying experience with days filled with nothing much to do but watch the shopping channel.  (Luckily, the staff asks that people do NOT have credit cards in their room or I probably would have purchased all sorts of doodads I did not need!)

I can only imagine what a stay in the hospital is like for a kid.

How do they stay so happy and excited about coming back to a hospital? The answer is simple – it is through OUR fundraising that they are provided with diversions, entertainment and some truly amazing Child Life Specialists who are there to work with patients and families to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness and disability.  THIS is why I fundraise. THIS is why I participate in Extra Life. And hopefully, I am making my friend proud in a small way.

Sharon Whitaker is Lead Development Coordinator at the UVM Medical Center Foundation.

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