What it Means to Volunteer at The Inn – A Conversation With Sandra Davis

Sandra Davis has been a volunteer, fundraiser, supporter, and tireless advocate for The Children’s Inn at NIH for more than eleven years. We sat down with her to discuss her experiences, her role at The Inn, what motivates her to volunteer, and how working with The Inn has added to her life.

Q: You began volunteering at The Inn in 2004. What attracted you to The Inn in particular?

A: In 2003 I was at a meeting at work and learned about a big fundraising gala for The Inn and decided to volunteer on the planning committee. Through working on the gala committee I became more and more familiar with The Inn’s mission to create “A Place Like Home.” Providing comfort and solace for families experiencing a child’s illness really resonated with me and I that’s when I decided to start volunteering.

Q: What is your role at The Inn?

A: I volunteer bi-weekly at the Welcome Desk. At the desk I am available to answer questions, lend an ear, or provide a friendly smile. My time spent with the families has been an experience that has shaped my life forever.

Q: You work for Booz Allen Hamilton, a long-time supporter of The Inn. Can you tell us about Booz Allen’s volunteer program and how you got involved?

A: Booz Allen is a very “community minded” company, which is great for me, as volunteering has always been a part of my life. The Firm advocates volunteerism at every level: senior leadership and our partners are encouraged to join the board of directors of nonprofits and volunteer opportunities are available to every employee in the company. Giving back is one of the most important aspects of our corporate culture. Booz Allen has a website devoted to different charities and nonprofits that are supported by the Firm www.boozallencares.com.

Q: Working for an organization that is so committed to philanthropy seems like a perfect fit for you both personally and professionally.

A: I am fortunate in so many ways. Working at Booz Allen has allowed me to take on a number of different projects at The Inn and really help to make a difference in the lives of these amazing families. I feel it was a perfect match for me when I joined Booz Allen in 2007. I had met Susan Penfield, one of our Senior Partners, at different events prior to joining the Firm and we really hit it off. Once I was hired, Susan asked me to get involved and be the liaison between The Inn and Booz Allen.

I have a leadership role in our Rockville Office, serving as the lead for our WLC, Workforce Leadership Council. I produce a weekly newsletter that is a great way to let the staff know about different events in which they may participate. I have also won several awards at Booz Allen because of my work at The Inn. I won the most coveted BEA – Booz Allen Excellence Award. I also won the VIP – Values in Practice award. I have been featured in different Booz Allen campaigns about volunteering – we call it Missions that Matter. Booz Allen produced a video about my volunteer service and made posters that hung in every one of our office lobbies, and I have been included in videos we show our new hires. I have also been recognized three times by The Inn for completing more than 100 hours of service in a year.

Q: In addition to working at the Welcome Desk, you have utilized Booz Allen’s commitment to The Inn to spearhead a number of projects. Can you tell us about them and how you are involved?

A: We have completed several pro bono and fundraising projects for The Inn. We are currently working with the staff to redesign The Inn’s reservation software and we continue to raise funds through a variety of events. In every pro bono project, I am always involved in the coordination and facilitation of the work; I am the liaison between Booz Allen and The Inn.

One of the most rewarding projects I developed was an art contest for the children at The Inn – we used their art to decorate our newly renovated conference center and our Senior Partner, Susan Penfield (now a board member at The Inn), has some of the art work hanging up in her office! This was a great experience for the kids and us as an organization. Kids want to be kids, even when they are going through extremely difficult treatments at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Art is a wonderful expression of who these kids really are and to see the work they created hanging on the walls always brings a huge smile to my face.

On the fundraising side I have secured funding from Booz Allen for five different family dinners throughout the year and Booz Allen sponsors an annual golf tournament for The Inn. We had our 8th annual tournament in June and are now gearing up for next year’s event. We have raised over $1.4 million so far!

I have worked on the An Evening for Hope gala committee for years – this year I am the Sales Chair for the event. Booz Allen’s CEO, Horacio Rozanski, has really embraced our partnership with The Inn. He has attended the Hope Gala two years in a row. He is invited to so many events, it is an honor that he elected to come to the Gala last year – I am sure he will attend next May as well if possible.

In addition, I organize a backpack drive and collect school supplies for the kids – every child loves a new backpack to start the school year! During the Christmas season I organize sending Booz Allen staff to The Inn to be Santa’s elves, helping residents choose a gift for each of their family members from The Inn’s Gingerbread Gift Shop, which we then help them wrap. And finally, I ran a fundraising auction that enabled The Inn to buy those wonderful lights you see on the trees leading up to the Clinical Center at the NIH.

Q: What motivates you to stay involved?

A: Friends, family, and colleagues have asked me what drives my passion for supporting The Inn. My answer to them is a life lesson that I learned years ago – if you are experiencing hard times and you become consumed in your own troubles, the best way to feel better is to help someone else.

I feel an amazing amount of satisfaction interacting with both the families and the staff at The Inn. I have met many brave families who are dealing with the hardship of having a sick child. What these families face is so insurmountable that if I am able to make even the smallest difference in their lives, my efforts are well spent. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the staff at The Inn, many of whom have become my friends. The needs of the families always come first and they are always so appreciative of all that is done for them. Having said this, you see how it is easy to stay motivated!

Q: In your opinion, what is the most important work that The Inn does?

A: The most important work The Inn does is to help facilitate child-centric research at the NIH. Rare diseases commonly appear in children and focusing on fighting and curing these diseases early in life leads to breakthroughs that help everyone.

The treatments and studies these children go through are difficult, to say the least. Families often have to come to the NIH on a regular basis because of research protocols and they need a place to just be a family. The Inn is so warm and friendly. It is a place where kids can be kids – where they can have fun and perhaps take their mind off their illness for just a little while. Parents feel safe and The Inn affords them an opportunity to meet and engage with other parents going through similar challenges and struggles. It is so important for moms and dads to have someone to talk to when times are tough and they are away from home and their loved ones.

Q: Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?

A: I am most proud of being able to engage a 100+ year-old company, Booz Allen Hamilton, with The Inn. As a leader in the Firm, I have been able to help guide the Firm’s resources to help The Inn develop its infrastructure, help solve some of the biggest technology challenges, and contribute in a grand way to their fund raising activities!

Q: What do you hope the organization will achieve in the near future and in the long term?

A: I feel confident that under the leadership of The Inn’s CEO, Jennie Lucca, and the Board, they will continue to grow and manage their finances in an efficient manner, attract more donors, and become even more well-known throughout the NIH community and other research communities as an important place to support.

Q: Do you have a story or experience that really moved you?

A: I have had many experiences over the past ten plus years that have moved me. Recently, while at the Welcome Desk, two young ladies came in to visit The Inn. As I was asking the required health screening questions, I kept thinking how familiar one of them looked. It turns out that she was a patient at The Inn for many years during the time I had started volunteering. She was very sick and her father had to give up his job in his country to care for her while at The Inn. Now, five years later she had grown into a beautiful teenager, is fluent in English, lives in the local community, has lots of friends and is enjoying life. She remembered me and thanked me for always being so kind to her.

I wanted to end this with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill that really resonates with me – “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”