The Volunteer Happiness Equation

If there was just one day to be happy, March 20 would be that day.

In 2013, the United Nations set aside this one day to recognize the “fundamental human goal” of happiness in the lives of people around the world, and International Day of Happiness was born.

A cornerstone of our work at Compassionate Eye Foundation is creating hope and happiness in communities across developing countries. As our many creative volunteers pool their talents and energy to ensure happiness for others, they discover an equal or greater happiness in that process. In the spirit of this happy day, meet two of our inspiring CEF volunteers.

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Penelope Goranson

Fashion model Penelope Goranson was still recovering from breast cancer surgery and treatments when her agent (Lisa Meuser, The Meus Productions) asked if she’d pose for a non-paying, high-fashion photoshoot for mature women. Thrilled, she said yes, and there in the studio, surrounded by beautiful clothes, shoes, jewelry, and scarves, she thought she’d died and gone to heaven.

“I hadn’t felt attractive since 2004 since I had my breast mangled,” she admitted. “You feel so weird when you look in the mirror and you see this thing (scar) looking at you.”

Penelope defines herself as sassy and, among the models on the shoot, she was clearly the outspoken one. “My mother always told me, ‘You’re not quite like others dear’,” she laughed. But since her life-altering experience, she now identifies as a warrior. “I don’t like that word, survivor [breast cancer survivor], it’s demeaning,” she told us. “A survivor walks away from an accident. A warrior walks towards whatever they need to face. We put on armour and we fight!”

Her whirlwind journey began with the discovery of an aggressive form of cancer, followed by surgery, six years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and the untimely loss of her mother to the same disease before her second treatment. Her husband was always at her side. “This has always been our cancer,” she explained.

Despite all that she’s been through, she maintains a positive outlook on life. Being asked to support CEF as a model has been more gift than duty, and her images have been featured in People, InStyle and three other magazines, with royalties all going CEF. “I felt so blessed, honoured to be able to help …,” she said. “I feel like I have a purpose, this is why I’m still here … it’s helped my healing and my spirituality.” Her advice to others volunteers is to just do it. “It’s agape (divine love). It makes you feel like you’re where you’re meant to be, helping people.”

Lory Keller

Living with MS for 20 years, Lory Keller has learned to adapt, evolve and push herself forward in her life. Volunteering has played an important and healthy role for her.

“After my diagnosis, I went through a wrongful work demotion, was dealing with an unhealthy marriage and was searching for relationships,” she told us. “Volunteering was the best way to find my tribe … it’s an exchange of positive energy that has a ripple effect.”

Lory discovered volunteering at an early age through church, community and political activities ranging from summer camps and teaching babies to swim, to helping a Cambodian family settle into American life and marching for the close of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. “I have always gotten great joy out of helping others,” Lory told us.

Her path to CEF came through an inquiry about an armoire for sale on Craigslist. When Lory went to see the item, she made an instant connection with the owner (actress Karen Kruper). Over tea, Lory was asked if she’d ever posed for print photography, and within days, found herself at an audition. She was chosen to model on two CEF Los Angeles Lifestyle photo shoots. “Karen saw something that would be a positive match” she explained. “I was so excited about it … it still makes me smile.”

From her first random meeting to modeling, and later working with CEF’s volunteer communications team writing social media content, Lory views her journey with CEF as “nothing short of magical.”

Much like Penelope, Lory also feels honoured and thrilled to be part of something meaningful. “Volunteering fulfills my intense desire to help others, be creative, make new friends, and feel more in touch and active with what is happening here around the world. Helping CEF always makes me feel like I hit the #VolunteerLottery!”