VOA Today: "Volunteers of America changed my life" - a story by Tiffany Cole Hall

It has been three years since Tiffany Cole Hall, VOA's COO, completed an important personal accomplishment by running her fourth full marathon at age 40. Read on for an inspirational story about her experience.

I chose the San Diego Marathon Rock and Roll Marathon; I figured if you are going to be running for five or six hours, you might as well be doing it in a beautiful place, right? I had not run a full marathon in 10 years and found it quite challenging to find time to train with the demands of a very busy job and two active children. When people asked me what my “time goal” was, I jokingly said it was the “make it in front of the ambulance”. I am happy to say I accomplished that, and actually beat my time from 10 years ago. The day before and the day of the race, I was overwhelmed with words of encouragement via text messages, phone calls, and social media, many from my colleagues and friends at Volunteers of America. My husband, who is not a runner but is a great cheerleader, met me along the race course, to bring water and lots of encouragement, and he met me at the finish line and brought me flip flops (26.2 miles is hard on 40 year-old feet) and a clean, dry t-shirt….a Volunteers of America t-shirt, of course! I got my banana and bagel and took all of the after-race pictures and began to slowly hobble to the car (26.2 miles is hard on 40-year old legs). On the way to the car, we walked along the race course where there were still a group of runners and walker completing their last two miles. My husband and I cheered for them, many of whom had been running for close to seven hours by then. I noticed a woman in the distance running toward me, likely in her late 60’s, jogging slow and steady and smiling all the way. I cheered for her and she looked at me, making eye contact and smiling. I then saw her glance down at my t-shirt, and she looked back up into my eyes as she was about to pass me. She smiled at me, and with sweat running down her face and all of the strength she could muster, she said “Volunteers of America changed my life”. I was overcome with emotion and began to cry; I looked at her, smiling through my tears, and said “Mine too.”

As I continued to walk back to my car, I reflected on the amazing opportunity – and awesome responsibility - we have in this organization to touch lives in so many ways across the globe. Maybe this woman has a daughter who was able to overcome addiction thanks to the clinical guidance of our colleagues at Volunteers of America. Maybe her son has an intellectual disability and is supported by Volunteers of America to live a full and happy life, free of institutionalization and loneliness. Maybe when she was younger and her children were small, she found herself without a home…or food…or clothing…or hope. And there was Volunteers of America. Or maybe – like me – she has been given the amazing gift of working alongside some of the most hard-working and passionate professionals you could ever hope to meet. Maybe – like me – she has gotten to see people overcome these obstacles of addiction, and isolation, and homelessness and live a life they could have never imagined before coming to Volunteers of America. Though I will never know her story, I know there are so many more – so many lives we get to change daily. Being a small part of this mission is a gift. This gift – Volunteers of America - has changed my life, and I am forever grateful.