For many people, the holidays inspire a spirit of giving. From Thanksgiving through to the New Year we’re encouraged to spread some holiday cheer and generosity by donating unused toys to children or giving canned goods to help feed those those less fortunate than ourselves. This surge in holiday magic, philanthropy and giving back is great, but the reality of the situation is that people are in need year round.
Organizations like Bert’s Big Adventure (BBA), try to fill that gap. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, BBA works in tandem with Atlanta’s “The Bert Show” radio show to provide magical, all-expenses-paid, five-day trips to Walt Disney World for children between the ages of 5-12 with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families. That may seem like enough charitable giving for one organization, but that’s not where the magic ends.
BBA provides support for the families with initiatives throughout the year. Along with the annual trip to Disney World, BBA provides programs such as the Reunion Adventures, which brings together families who have participated with BBA over the years to create a sense of community and family. The Fairy Godparent volunteer program sends volunteers to visit children in the hospital daily and provides quality time with the kids -- freeing up time for mom, dad or other relatives to run errands or take a much needed break.
Molly Darby is the Executive Director for Bert’s Big Adventure and after interviewing her, I could tell that her involvement with BBA runs deeper than it just being her job. Molly is passionate about charitable giving and is excited to have a platform suchas BBA to put help put forth her efforts.
Jasmin Martin: What made you want to want to work with Bert’s Big Adventure?
Molly Darby: I can only explain it as an addiction… and I mean that with the most positive connotation. Some people are addicted to running or smoking or chocolate or shopping….I’m addicted to Bert’s Big Adventure. Once you see or interact with any of the Bert’s Big Adventure kiddos, you’re addicted to that experience and you just want more. My first interaction was when I was doing the public relations for the organization and I attended the send-off party. A kid I’d never met walked right up to me and gave me a hug and said ‘thank you’....and I knew that morning that I wanted to be a bigger part of it and not just a person working in the peripheral vision. I wanted to do whatever I could to make myself an integral part of the team so that I could have these inspiring experiences more often!
JM: Describe your day-to-day responsibilities as the executive director for Bert’s Big Adventure?
MD: I have the best job in the world as the Executive Director of Bert’s Big Adventure! Basically, that means that my job is to make sure our team is doing everything we can to make sure that each Bert’s Big Adventure child gets spoiled with magical moments– whether it is during our annual trip to Walt Disney World, during one of our family reunion events or during a Fairy Godparent visit. I’ve been with Bert’s Big Adventure serving in different roles since 2007, and I’ve enjoyed being part of its growth.
JM: We’re sure going to Disney World with VIP status is memorable enough, but has there been any success stories or reunions with kids that you just can’t forget?
MD: One year I was partnered up in Disney with one particular girl named Gracie. Gracie had been fighting a battle against a cancerous brain tumor and had lost all of her previously long, blond hair. We decided to surprise her and take her to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique- a magical beauty salon where little girls can get princess makeovers. At the boutique, they put fake hair pieces in her hair, put on nail polish and makeup...and when they turned her around so that she could see herself in the mirror, you could just see on her face how beautiful she felt that moment. Of course, I thought she was just as beautiful before the makeover, but she FELT beautiful...and every girl knows how good that can feel. We all cried, of course! I’ll just never forget her face and how special that moment in time was to me. It’s times like that that I say to myself, “this is why we do it...for these moments.”
JM: What’s the best part of your job?
MD: I think the best part of my job is always hearing from the families after the trip. Most of them tend to say that before the trip, they felt alone or unheard or ignored. But when they return, they typically feel like they are part of something ...like they’re part of a community of other families that finally understand their struggles.
Plus, the hugs. When you get a hug from one of those kiddos, it just melts your heart. When the Bert’s Big Adventure kiddos are with me, they get whatever they want...I’m such a sucker.
JM: What has been the biggest risk you’ve taken professionally and how has it paid off?
MD: I’m not really a huge risk taker...I take calculated risks though! Probably the best thing I ever did was to start taking things off of my boss’s plate without asking and just doing it. I figured if I wanted that job later (which I got this year!) I had to learn how to do it sometime! So I would start researching sponsorships, or benefits packages, or insurance policies, or budgets and I would brainstorm new marketing materials, new events, etc...all in hopes that my boss would realize I could do it on my own. It paid off :)
JM: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women aspiring to work in the non-profit sector?
MD: Be a soldier! Do whatever you need to do to get the results you need, whether it’s part of your job description or not. Whether that means making sure there is hot coffee or pulling a budget together ...just do whatever you can to keep everyone moving toward the goal. You’re much more valuable when you wear many hats!
Live where you would vacation...there are nonprofits everywhere that need your help! Volunteer as much as you can, that will at least get your foot in the door!
JM: What can we look forward to from Bert’s Big Adventure in the future? Any big collaborations or projects you can tell us about?
MD: Well, I suppose you’d be one of the first to know that Bert’s Big Adventure is the official beneficiary for the 50th Annual Atlanta Steeplechase on April 18th, 2015. I’m personally excited because we’ve been going for years as spectators and I know how much fun this event will be.
We are also getting ready to launch a vehicle donation program that will be announced in December!
JM: Your work is so inspiring and you’re helping to change lives. What inspires you?
MD: The Bert’s Big Adventure families inspire me everyday! I can barely keep up with my two dogs and laundry, and then I look at these families and see the hardships that they face every single day...it inspires me to be better, to do more, to be more positive, to try harder, to not take shortcuts, to be a better listener, to ask more questions, to always be kind and to appreciate my health!