Retreat Reflections: Connecting a Community

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Last weekend, we welcomed 25 of our Sambassadors to Chicago for our first-ever retreat. All five staff members and three of our Board members were there. Based on our individual interactions with everyone and the amount of time and thought we put into the agenda, we had high hopes that the weekend would be special. But we never could have anticipated the spark that ignited when we put everyone together in one room.

As a Boston-based organization with national programs and a wide base of volunteers spread out across the country, our goal was to make everyone feel connected to one another and to a greater effort. Well, we hardly had to do anything. They connected instantly — even those who walked in without knowing a single person.

_DSC0433Our Board Chair, Steve Bandrowczak, was the first to sign up when we announced the retreat at a Board meeting. A leader in the technology community who is known and respected around the globe, Steve has this gift of making people feel like they can accomplish anything. In his workshops, he taught us about leadership and about being comfortable making presentations. But in his actions he taught us invaluable lessons about self-confidence, trust, and storytelling. He reminded us that we are the “subject matter experts” of our own stories, and that as long as we have life, we have an important story to tell.

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We were also lucky to welcome Jonny Imerman, of Imerman Angels fame, to our Sunday morning session on advocacy. He managed to even further connect the participants in the room to one another, and in sharing his story, emulated many of the leadership qualities we’d talked about the day before with Steve. His enthusiasm about the work The Samfund is doing in the young adult cancer community was contagious, and was a perfect way to conclude a weekend program that equipped our Sambassadors with the tools to go out and be leaders in their own communities.

We talked a lot about the work that The Samfund does, and set big goals for how to do even more. What was most amazing to us was that no one even mentioned the $1.6 million we’ve awarded in grants, or the number of rent checks or medical bills we paid. In the office, we get asked about these figures all the time. But our Sambassadors didn’t talk about the dollars themselves; they described what these dollars do for people. They focused on the intangible benefits — like hope, relief, community, and support.

In (less than) 48 hours, something magical happened: The Samfund became bigger than all of us. For many years, though we had a terrific network of volunteers, The Samfund was a one- or two-person shop. Now, after spending a weekend sharing stories, learning new skills, and brainstorming new ways to broaden The Samfund’s impact, we know that our committed team of Sambassadors will help us accomplish more than we ever could before.

In Steve’s words, “this Chicago event was a new chapter in our Samfund journey.  It was my honor and pleasure to spend my weekend with incredible individuals that have amazing life lessons. I believe we all left Chicago with enormous energy and passion for helping others.”
We think so too.

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