The Best Decision I Ever Made

It was one of the best decisions I ever made, but one of the hardest. We had just had our first Christmas without her. She was only gone 6 months. At this point I was visiting her every Wednesday and it wasn’t pretty. I kept thinking of all the things I was going to do with my life without cancer. I was finally going to do all the things I was never able to do. I was finally going to take the Foundation by the reins and turn this little project into something. But I couldn’t do it.

I spent the entire day of that first September race, after she passed away, hiding out. I couldn’t talk to people, but everyone wanted to talk to me. I would just stand uncomfortably in front of people, thanking them with tears rolling down my face. I would sit at home and see the emails coming in from people who were heartbroken by our situation and just wanted to offer their condolences, but I couldn’t respond. I was looking at all that we had built over the years and I was staring at a crossroads. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t strong enough.

This was it. This was the moment they all talk about.

  1. Divorce
  2. Have a baby
  3. Move

None of them was an option for me. I was only looking at one viable option to survive. I had to hire someone.

When an organization is built on volunteers, it’s hard to make the jump to hire someone. You think supporters will treat you differently like you are somehow no longer what you say you are. The mission is the most important thing and anything that takes away from that feels like you are doing your supporters wrong. But, we just couldn’t do it anymore. All I wanted to do was run from it, but I could feel her hand on my back pushing me to continue.

It was a Wednesday. Why I chose to schedule an interview on a Wednesday morning after my cemetery visit is beyond me, looking back. I asked my head of Marketing, Rachel Wood, to join me. I had never hired anyone before so I wasn’t sure what to ask. I wanted us to seem professional like we had our shit together.

I arrived a couple of minutes early to grab a coffee and compose myself. I had of course been crying that morning after visiting her on a cold January morning. January in a cemetery is always depressing, cold and dead. There she was… early. Little did I know that for the next three years she would always be the one who was early. Always saving me from being late. I walk up looking like I just had the shit beat out of me. I’m sure she thought, “Good Lord woman… you are not ready to be in public,” but there I was a mess.

She was, of course, gracious and sympathetic and as professional as she is today.   Rachel arrived a few minutes later – glancing at me and realizing that I was in no shape for this interview. But, what was she to say to me? She just smiled and gave me a hug. Thankfully Rachel ran most of the interview for me, asking all the right questions. The woman across the table had no real non-profit experience to speak of but was looking for something in her life that was missing. She had followed the story and seemed passionate to help. There was no real social media or fundraising experience either, just something about her that made me feel like I was home.

The interview ended and we waited to discuss our options until we conducted a few more interviews that morning. But without even speaking, we knew she was it. We tried to Google her, we tried to dig up her dirt – nothing could be found. Everyone who spoke of her spoke of her highly. So we went for it on our gut… and we hired Maitland.

Maitland had never met Isabella once.isabella_santos_foundation_maitland_danner What we asked of her was all over the board. I needed someone to be the first line of defense on ISF. I couldn’t be so reachable. I needed to get things organized and scheduled. I needed her to learn our social media because I couldn’t post pictures of Isabella every day. The things we asked of her were so random and new to her, but she took it all on with a smile. The pay was embarrassing. It was hard for me to look at her, knowing that we were paying her so little. She would submit hours each month that I knew were a fraction of the hours she was actually working. She hated that we paid her, even if it wasn’t much. It was so uncomfortable for us both.

Maitland is where everything changed. I found myself coming out of my dark hole and being excited to work alongside her. It brought me comfort knowing that on the days when I just couldn’t, she could. I felt like we could conquer the world together because she had the professionalism and demeanor that I lacked. We were the yin and yang to ISF and it just made sense. I had never worked so well with someone in my life.

For 2 years she and I worked together, and with the help of countless volunteers and an amazing Board of Directors, we took ISF to the next level. She began to know me and take care of me. She would step in when she knew I was about to break or make me wait in the hall when our video was showing, even if I told her I was strong enough to watch. She knew all the days it hurt, and especially the ones that hurt really bad. She answered questions that I couldn’t and kept some of the crazy people away from me. Maitland was my protector and with her working alongside me I was able to heal. I honestly feel like I would have shut down ISF had I not brought her on. She was a gift to me.

Our buckets were constantly full. But like most buckets, they overflow and you realize that it’s once again time to expand. The Foundation was growing and the hit to our bottom line for one employee paid for itself ten times over. We began to pass on opportunities because we didn’t have time devote to them. I knew that she would take on more and more but I didn’t want to do that to her. It was time for a talk with the Board.

isabella_santos_foundation_andrea_issacDre volunteered like no other. This poor girl offered to help with an auction that pretty much swallowed her whole over the summer. I wanted her to come on board because she had more traits that I lacked. She was like a dog on a bone when it came to things. She had no fear of asking people to help, donate or volunteer. I, on the other hand, could barely ask close family to help. Her organization skills put everyone I know to shame and she had a heart of gold. I knew she was nervous about coming on board because we had a friendship. Friendship is more important than a silly job and I promised it wouldn’t get in the way. She finally accepted our sad offer and we were a party of three. ISF grew to new levels once again.

Each time I feel us sinking, we all begin to give each other that look. There are so many hours in the day and we don’t want to fail. If we could clone ourselves we would, but instead, we stick our toe in the water once more and bring on someone to carry the weight. Karen came on earlier this year just as we started to go under water. The ability to have someone devoted to things that we couldn’t even comprehend having the time to investigate, just makes us that much stronger.

isabella_santos_foundation_karen_murphySo here I sit, with my three women that are truly the hardest working women I have ever met in my entire life. They text me before my eyes are open in the morning and are still texting as I close my eyes at night. They work on vacations, holidays, family time – you name it. They are the most overworked, under paid group of people you will ever meet, but they love it. And I love it.

They always say that when you find the job of your dreams, the compensation, the benefits, and the bonuses – all that doesn’t matter anymore. I always thought this was a load of crap. But now that I’m in the job of my dreams, I couldn’t agree more. These women are my family and what they give to the Foundation is immeasurable. We would not be here today without them and they are a gift to me every day. Because I care about them so much, I also know what I can’t put on their shoulders. I am careful not to break them because I love them and I have to work with them every day.

0_7105So when I tell them our goal in 2017 is to raise 1 million dollars in one year, I feel their stomachs drop. I know we are all stretched thin and we feel that our current Rolodex is already tapped. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but I know that we can. They tell me we will do it, not because they get some big bonus at the end of the year if we hit it, they want to hit it because this thing we are doing means something so much to them too. Sure, they will get a big thank you note from me and their favorite bottle of wine at the end of the year like they always have –but their biggest gift is just a sense of accomplishment and a hug.

The gift I want to give them this year is help. I know we can use the money you give us for Neuroblastoma research to bring on another employee, but we don’t want to. We always want to stay true to the mission we tell you. Instead, I’m asking today for you to give because you believe in us. You believe that by bringing on one extra, hardworking person like the ones we have – we will be able to hit 1 million dollars raised next year. Each person we have brought on has brought this Foundation to a whole new level and I have no doubt this will do the same.

I can’t ask any more from my team because they are already giving more than they have ever given. I know they can leave me tomorrow and make 2-3 times their salaries because they are worth it. But instead, they stay because Isabella has become their daughter too. I couldn’t ask for anything more in my girls.

Thanks to these women, countless volunteers, an incredible Dream Team Coach, and an amazing Board of Directors, we are doing amazing things here. I would never have imagined where we would be today, and it’s exciting to think of where we will be tomorrow.

1 million dollars. We can do it, but we need your help.

The Isabella Santos Foundation has set a goal of raising $25,000 during this season of giving to support the organization’s growth strategies during its 10th anniversary year in 2017. Your support will help us get our message of hope to more people than ever before, generating much needed resources for research to eradicate childhood cancers.

Donate now by visiting our giving page.

Beat Cancer. Grow ISF. Live OUR dreams.

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