Our first local spotlight is on Orlando's own Stefania Mennella! Through her time, effort, and unwavering compassion, she is determined to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Thanks so much for Be[ing] Robin Hood!
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became involved with volunteer work in this area?
My name is Stefania and I am a 21-year-old college student. I began devoting my time to volunteering with children with cancer since I was a senior in high school. I first got involved when I learned that childhood cancer only gets 4% of the entire cancer research budget. I reached out to a mother who had a prayer page for her daughter with leukemia, asking how I could help. She explained to me that first and foremost, children with cancer need a voice! They need people who will advocate and raise awareness for the lack of funding, and take a stand for change. I got involved with a grassroots movement called TheTruth365, and later began meeting families through an organization called Candlelighters NYC. I was blessed to meet so many families, get close to them and help them whenever needed.
Is this type of work something that is preparing you for something in the future?
I would love to continue working with children, perhaps becoming a child life specialist to work with kids in the hospital and help them cope with being there.
Tell us about one or two moments with these children that really stuck with you?
Once, I was with this little girl named Emily who had just relapsed with Neuroblastoma. She had been in the hospital with a 107 fever and almost died. She also had just lost her hair again. I had just met her and she turned to me and said “Oh, I’m not sick anymore! I just have cancer!”. It was such an innocent and brave thing to say, showing me that this little girl knew little more than cancer and hospitals and pain. Emily passed away a year later (this past October), and I went to New Mexico for her funeral; at the church they sung worship songs and her mom just lifted up her hands in worship, which in the Christian faith is a sign of surrender and praise. I was so touched that she was able to praise God despite the fact that Emily had just died.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about pure voluntary work or beginning a business that has a charitable component to it?
Remember to stay humble and that the point of volunteer work is to fully sacrifice your own needs and desires to the good of others. Sometimes I would think of how I wanted to meet a family and help them, and I had to learn that it was not about what I wanted, it was about their needs, and whether they even wanted to meet me. Childhood cancer is one of the worst things a family can go through, and understanding how it affects a family and that each one copes with it differently is critical in knowing how you can help (especially knowing when to take a step back).
If you could have your ‘dream come true’, what would it be?
That no child would ever be diagnosed with cancer, and at the very least childhood cancer got the attention and research it so desperately needs. Children are dying every day and it needs to stop!