My friend Samantha Eisenstein Watson runs The SAMFund, a non-profit that awards financial grants to young adult survivors of cancer to help them move forward. She’s awesome. The organization is awesome.
I’ve given money (and so can you!), I’ve volunteered on their review committees, and I also built The SAMFund a website for the application and reviewing process.
Last night, at an event celebrating The SAMFund’s awarding its millionth dollar, I was honored with an award as the volunteer of the decade. They gave me two minutes for a speech. I took four:
I’m truly honored to be here and to receive this award. When Sam and Michelle told me that I’d be receiving this honor, my immediate reaction was: There’s been some mistake. I demand a recount.
But really, I was floored and flattered and surprised and honored and, all humblebragging aside, didn’t really feel deserving. As I thought about it, I realized that I’d just had my own, very scaled down version of an experience Sam and Michelle are totally familiar with: I was receiving a call from The SAMFund to hear really delightful news.
That’s got to be the most fun part of the job, calling up applicants and telling them yes, The SAMFund is going to give you some help. And each year, Sam and Michelle post online about how great it is.
This is not surprising. Sam, you will not be shocked to learn, was an awesome person before she was first diagnosed with cancer. She was an awesome friend to me at Brandeis, and to oodles of other people, always patient and giving—of advice, of support, of her time.
Now she does that professionally. With money.
When Sam got diagnosed with cancer, it was my own realization that no one, not even college kids, is invincible. That was a sucky thing to realize. Not as sucky as a cancer diagnosis, but sucky nonetheless.
When Sam went through treatment, I supported her by emailing her occasional jokes. I believe the technical term for that was, specifically, one step up from the absolute least I could do.
When Sam launched The SAMFund, it was exactly in keeping with her personality and nature, and not at all surprising in retrospect. And then I had a job, so I could give money, so I did. And then Sam and Michelle asked me to become a volunteer to help with reviewing applications, which I immediately said yes to, because I have not learned how to say no to them. Obviously.
Then, selfishly, because I hated the website that The SAMFund used for applications because of its awful clunkiness, I asked if I could build them a new version of that website, and they were kind enough to say yes. I love that the website I built has made it easier for applicants to apply and for The SAMFund to give them money. That’s awesome. That’s amazing.
But the truth is, I am not amazing. What’s amazing is how many times Michelle has patiently emailed me asking when I would kindly getting around to adding the feature that she’s already asked me to add to the website twice before. What’s amazing is how she never seems annoyed, even though she most definitely is. And should be.
What's amazing is that as a volunteer, I once simply forgot to call into a reviewer conference, to talk about applications I had reviewed. What's amazing is how I have been slow getting bugs fixed on the website. More than once. And I am the volunteer of the decade. What does that mean?
That tells me, folks, that the competition is WIDE OPEN for 2023, when The SAMFund will surely crown its NEXT volunteer of the decade, and I urge you all to try to beat me, to crush me; I am the competition and I know firsthand that the competition is WEAK. So challenge me, and of course the real winner will be The SAMFund.
In the past couple months, my mom and my 10-year-old nephew both received their own cancer diagnoses, and they’re both fighting now. I am indebted to The SAMFund’s founders, staff, volunteers, mission, and many past recipients, for showing me again and again that cancer is worth fighting, and that survivors can go on to accomplish so many great things. Thank you all.