Karen Milne: Volunteer Fundraising Powerhouse

 

Here’s how it all started.

Karen’s friend and former boss placed a call to her good friend, former Be The Match president Christine Fleming. “Find this woman something to do!” she said. Karen had retired from a Minneapolis law firm on December 31, 2012, where she’d been a legal assistant. She’d made good friends in her 31-year career there, but her favorite part of the job had always been organizing the firm’s social events and charity fundraisers. For those first few months after retirement, the newly inactive Karen felt a bit adrift.

“I read more books than you’d think possible,” Karen jokes, “and bothered my friends to the point that I think they were happy for Caller ID.”

Clearly, Karen—and her friends—were ready for her to move on to the next chapter. Three days later, Karen Milne found herself in the offices of Be The Match, where she was recruited to work on the silent auction for the annual gala. Three months after that Karen was asked to chair the event. She’s served in that role since 2013.

BLAZING NEW TRAILS

That next chapter has proven to be a happy one for Be The Match and for Karen. Along with raising money, it’s the challenge and sociability of acquiring silent auction items that most appeals to her. To that end, Karen, whose soft-spoken demeanor masks a very determined spirit, often teams up with her good friend and fellow volunteer Michelle Vance to scout out new donations. “Michelle’s very outgoing,” says Karen. “It’s fun to go to new places together and see what kinds of reactions we get—most often, we get the job done.”

Finding items for BTM’s silent auction is a matter of being aware of your surroundings, businesses in particular, and thinking about what people might like to bid on. In fact, says Karen with a smile, “My family got tired of going places with me because I was always ‘scanning the horizon’ for new opportunities.”

In their brainstorming and horizon-scanning, Karen and her silent auction committee have discovered how popular experience packages have become. Everyone expects there to be an array of great items, she notes, but experiences are often unique and surprising, prompting people to bid on them.

For instance, using their connections, the committee put together a “first pitch” experience with the Minnesota Twins, as well as an opportunity to “come out of the tunnel” with the University of Minnesota football team. Working the the Plymouth fire department, they arranged a “Day in the Life of a Firefighter” experience for several lucky kids. “That was very popular,” says Karen.

The 2015 silent auction featured 200-plus items and experiences, and raised $35,000. “Of course, next year we want to do even better,” says Karen.

 

A NATURAL VOLUNTEER

Karen’s dedication to volunteering has deep roots. In her hometown of Rolla, North Dakota, her parents were consummate volunteers. “My dad was president or chair of everything in town, mom too,” Karen remembers. “They taught us that giving back enriches your life as well as the lives of those you’re helping.”

Along with her work for Be The Match, the mother of three and grandmother of eight also chairs events for other Twin Cities’ organizations, and substitute-teaches with the Robbinsdale school district. The flexibility of working when she wants to gives her more time for the charity activities that draw her to them.

 

WHY I VOLUNTEER

“I’m not the kind of person to sit around—maybe someday but not now,” says Karen. “Working with Be The Match fills up my time, and my heart.”

Living Life with a Song

It was a third bout with cancer that brought New Yorker Rima Starr to the doorstep of Be The Match.

Volunteer and transplant recipient Rima Starr
Volunteer and transplant recipient Rima Starr

Rima, a professional singer and certified music therapist, has a lifelong love of music. During her noteworthy music career, she performed with the national tour of “The Sound of Music” and even sang with Pavarotti under Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. As hospice music therapist at Beth Israel Hospital for 17 years, Rima soothed patients and families with her gentle music and compassion.

In recent years, though, she had begun to feel like her new role in life was “cancer patient.” After five years of battling endometrial cancer and lymphoma, she’d just started to feel like her old self when she got the latest news: this time, the cancer was AML—Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Her only treatment option, the doctors said, was a bone marrow transplant. The doctors described it in harrowing terms, presenting the worst-case scenario. Without the transplant, they gave Rima little hope, predicting that she had only nine months to live.

“I asked, What kind of choice is that?” Rima recalls. Considering the difficult side effects she’d been led to expect, she decided to take the nine months. But her husband, Len Weiss, had a different idea. “He said NO, you can do it,” Rima says emphatically. “He helped me opt for life.”

GOOD NEWS

Rima was pleased to discover that her recovery from the transplant was not at all like she expected. “I didn’t even throw up,” she says. “In spite of some mouth sores, I never stopped eating—I even gained weight!” From her experience, she realized that there was a much broader spectrum of reactions to treatment than she’d been told.

One day during her recovery, Rima took to the hospital hallways, dragging her IV at her side. As she walked, her irrepressible love of music bubbled to the surface. She began to sing. And as it had during her days as a singer and music therapist, her singing drew others to her.

“Patients and even staff started to sing along with me,” Rima remembers. “As we sang, I realized how good it felt to be giving again. The emphasis was no longer on our illness, but on our strength.”
A POSITIVE NEW ROLE

That was more than three years ago. With her recovery behind her, Rima decided to volunteer with a Be The Match team that phone-counsels people who are considering bone marrow transplants. “These people have a hard decision to make. I wanted to share my story and give them the hope and perspective that only another transplant patient can provide.”

Because music was so powerful in her own healing, Rima brings it into her volunteer work whenever she can. She remembers easing the fears of one woman whose native country was Italy. They talked, they got acquainted; they finished their conversation by softly singing “Santa Lucia” together.

“It’s not all about the big things and the training,” Rima says. “Often, it’s the smallest things and a personal connection that can help people.”
WHY I VOLUNTEER

“It feels so good to help others go through the exact process I went through,” says Rima. “I feel so grateful for getting through this, I just want to pass it on.”

Transplant patient uses his talent for film to create “Good Blood”

Kevin McDevitt and his wife Stephanie take a light-hearted approach to encouraging more people to join the bone marrow registry. Kevin created the music video “Good Blood” as a parody of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. The video includes how easy it is to become a donor at Be the Match. Being a bone marrow recipient himself, he wanted to show that he not only beat Aplastic Anemia but was able to express what he went through jokes, laughs and making people smile. Kevin also hopes that this film creates awareness for Be the Match to help get new registered donors.