11:46 a.m., April 14, 2010----Lori LaFave died from breast cancer in 2003, but her memory lives on in one of the University of Delaware's newest registered student organizations -- Lori's Hands. Started by her daughter Sarah, now a junior nursing major in the Honors Program at UD, the organization has grown in just two semesters to include more than 50 students.
The green-shirted volunteers help local residents suffering from chronic illnesses with such chores as grocery shopping, yard work and pet care.
“I was a freshman in high school when my mother died,” LaFave says, “and I remember my grandmother and aunts coming to help out when she was sick, and my father taking off from work to be there when he was needed. Later on, I thought about what it would be like for a single mother to go through an experience like that alone. We had a strong family support system in place, we were financially stable, and my father had a flexible job -- and it was still hard.”
Determined to do something meaningful in her mother's memory, Sarah launched Lori's Hands in fall 2009. “Even when she was sick, she was always helping other people,” LaFave says. “This is exactly what she'd be doing if she were still alive.”
LaFave sees the University campus as the perfect place for an organization like Lori's Hands. “Many college students are interested in doing service work to help others,” she says, “and the types of jobs we do for people don't take any special skills. Also, there's a close connection between the University and the town here, and I like knowing that we're helping local residents.”
The group has worked with Cancer Care Connection, a Newark-based nonprofit, and with Delaware Hospice to obtain referrals of people in need. They are also working with the Ronald McDonald House to help with the siblings of patients at the Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Sometimes, the side benefits of a visit from the extra pair of hands are better than the chores that get done. LaFave relates the story of a woman who was exhausted from chemotherapy and took an afternoon nap. “When she woke up, she looked out her bedroom window and saw a bunch of our members raking leaves in her front yard. They were talking and laughing -- having fun even though they were working. She told us later that seeing them gave her hope for the future.”
LaFave is gratified that her organization has been able to make a difference for a number of people already. But her dreams go beyond Newark and UD. “I'd love to see Lori's Hands expand to other campuses in the area and even across the country,” she says. “We're hoping to hold a conference next year so that we can share our structure and approach with other students who are interested in starting a chapter.”
The experience has also influenced LaFave's career plans. “I think I'd like to continue my work with Lori's Hands or another non-governmental organization,” she says. “I'm taking a course now in managing NGOs, and it feels like a really good fit for me.”
Article by Diane Kukich
Photo by Evan Krape