Student honors her mother with helping hands
ON THE GREEN | Lori LaFave died from breast cancer in 2003, but her memory lives on in one of the University’s newest registered student organizations—Lori’s Hands.
Started by her daughter Sarah, now a senior nursing major in the Honors Program, the organization has grown to include more than 50 students and won national recognition in December when USA Today featured the group’s founder in its special “Holiday Heroes” series.
The green-shirted volunteers help local residents who are elderly or suffering from chronic illnesses with such chores as grocery shopping, yard work and pet care.
“I was a freshman in high school when my mother died,” LaFave says, “and I remember my grandmother and aunts coming to help out when she was sick, and my father taking off from work to be there when he was needed. Later on, I thought about what it would be like for a single mother to go through an experience like that alone. We had a strong family support system in place, we were financially stable, and my father had a flexible job—and it was still hard.”
Determined to do something meaningful in her mother’s memory, Sarah launched Lori’s Hands in fall 2009. “Even when she was sick, she was always helping other people,” LaFave says of her mom. “This is exactly what she’d be doing if she were still alive.”
LaFave sees the University campus as the perfect place for an organization like Lori’s Hands. “Many college students are interested in doing service work to help others,” she says, “and the types of jobs we do for people don’t take any special skills. Also, there’s a close connection between the University and the town here, and I like knowing that we’re helping local residents.”
The group has worked with Cancer Care Connection, a Newark-based nonprofit, and with Delaware Hospice to obtain referrals of people in need, as well as with the Ronald McDonald House to help with the siblings of patients at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Sometimes, the side benefits of a visit from the extra pair of hands are better than the chores that get done. LaFave relates the story of a woman who was exhausted from chemotherapy and took an afternoon nap: “When she woke up, she looked out her bedroom window and saw a bunch of our members raking leaves in her front yard. They were talking and laughing, having fun even though they were working. She told us later that seeing them gave her hope for the future.”
LaFave hopes to see Lori’s Hands go nationwide, with chapters of the organization on campuses across the country. “This is about so much more than just doing chores and decorating houses,” she said. “We’ve had so many moments with our clients today that remind me why we do what we do.”
The experience of starting the organization also has influenced her career plans. “I think I’d like to continue my work with Lori’s Hands or another non-governmental organization,” she says. “I’m taking a course now in managing NGOs, and it feels like a really good fit for me.”
When USA Today announced that LaFave would be featured in the newspaper, Kathleen Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences, expressed support for the student organization.
“We’re very proud of the wonderful, selfless work Sarah and the other Lori’s Hands volunteers are doing,” she said. “They exemplify the concept of Holiday Heroes—people who serve others not only during the holidays but all year long.”
For more information about Lori’s Hands, send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Diane Kukich, AS ’73, ’84M