Find Your Passion

 Life is better for all of us when we step out to help others — so says Kristen Johnson of Garner, who is a wife, mother of four, and president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina.

“I was taught by example from an early age that if someone needs help, you find a way to make a difference,” said Johnson. “Volunteering is a natural extension of what is important to you, helps others, builds character, hones skills, and the list could go on and on.”

Trained in public relations and marketing communications, Johnson has worked in corporate and advertising agency environments, and holds the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for her service through the Governor’s Office of Citizen Affairs.

But it was pro bono PR work for the Special Olympics World Games, held in Raleigh in 1999, that “hooked” her, she says, linking her career skills with volunteering and her passion for helping children.

Johnson left the corporate world and never looked back, spending a decade in nonprofit fundraising and management at Duke Children’s Hospital before joining Make-A-Wish, which grants the wishes of children living with life-threatening medical conditions.

“A wish granted provides hope, strength and joy to the wish child and inspires all involved,” Johnson said, offering families the chance to focus on each other.

In 2012, Make-A-Wish celebrated its 25th anniversary and the granting of its 2,500th wish in Eastern North Carolina, milestones Johnson says could not have been reached without the dedication of volunteers.

She calls charities, of many kinds, “the lifeblood of a community,” addressing needs and issues that otherwise might be overlooked, and says it’s volunteers who keep them running.
“Volunteers are the eyes, ears, arms, legs and heart of an organization,” Johnson said. “Our volunteers help grant wishes, help in the office and help us connect us with others to raise awareness and funding for our mission.

“Everyone can volunteer!” she said. “I believe that every person has a God-given talent. You just need to find what you are passionate about and what you are good at doing. For some that is encouragement; others can organize events to raise funds or needed items; others may be good at lending a listening ear, blessing others through music, or providing an extra set of hands. The opportunities to help others are endless.”

Volunteers receive perks of their own, Johnson added.

“The feeling of knowing you made a difference in someone’s life is one of the greatest feelings in the world,” she said. “It is a connection, a bond that can never be taken from you.
“Volunteering is also a great way to gain skills and experiences that will be helpful as you prepare for college, enter the workforce or look for a change in careers. Volunteering often teaches you about yourself,” she said.

“Find what’s important to you and volunteer! You’ll be glad you did.”

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