Aleasheia Stanford knows a thing or two about knuckling down and showing her resolve.
A network manager in the BlueCross Memphis office, Stanford keeps a full schedule by volunteering with Team Blue and studying health care law at Southwest Tennessee Community College — all while battling leukemia.
“I’ve always worked with people, and I’ve always enjoyed helping others,” says the Arkansas native.
“If there is a need for volunteers, I climb on board for everything I can.”
Stanford’s volunteer efforts began a few years ago after her son, Camron, went off to college. After a few weekends of sitting home alone, she was restless and yearned to do something productive.
She participated in her first KaBOOM! playground build and from there was hooked on giving back to the community.
“I recruit other people to Team Blue,” Stanford says. “Last year most of my department helped out at the St. Jude golf tournament.”
Ironically, her participation in another St. Jude event led to her diagnosis. In October 2016, Stanford walked the St. Jude Marathon Weekend 5K.
She mistakenly entered a “fast” corral and found herself moving at a more brisk pace than normal. She was encouraged by fellow participants and pushed through the pain.
However, significant fatigue lingered after the race. Her doctor prescribed blood work, which led to a bone marrow biopsy, which in turn led to the leukemia discovery and a month-long hospital stay in January. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and working from home.
“I had to beg and plead to return to work because my doctor just wasn’t having it,” she says with a laugh.
A destination for hope
While her volunteer efforts have scaled back, she remains passionate about the mission of Team Blue. She recently joined other employees to serve meals at Harrah’s Hope Lodge, which houses critically ill patients free of charge.
“That organization holds a special place in my heart,” Stanford says. “It feels really good to see those patients, to laugh with them and hopefully forget about the pain for a while. If we can touch just one life, it means a lot to me.”
When Andriene Tate was young, she often wondered if the food in the pantry would last. Fortunately, her parents used a food bank and other social services to make ends meet.
Now a credentialing auditor at BlueCross, Tate, a member of Team Blue for three years, doesn’t need those supports. But the experience is the reason she volunteers one afternoon a month with the Mobile Pantry program at East Side Elementary in Chattanooga.
“If you have more than you need, build a longer table,” she says. “It just makes sense, bringing other people in.”
Helping hungry kids
At East Side, all students receive free breakfast and lunch each day. Those two meals a day help keep kids focused at school but don’t cover all of their nutritional requirements.
In 2015, East Side teachers reached out to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to see if the school could join their existing school snack program.
The Food Bank replied with an offer for East Side to pilot a school-based Mobile Pantry to help students get more to eat at home.
The 2016-2017 program delivered enough food for East Side Elementary families to make nearly 80,000 meals.
Volunteers: crucial for results
Every month, trucks roll in full of healthy staples, such as chicken, eggs, milk, bread and vegetables. Tate and more than 30 Team Blue colleagues unload it all for families to take home.
“BlueCross volunteers are the make-or-break ingredient for this program,” says Kelsey Huynh, East Side Elementary exceptional education teacher. “They’re always looking for ways to make the experience better for our families.”
For Tate, the payoff is worth the time and effort she invests.
“I see families walking to the school with wagons, laundry totes and boxes to bring the food home. It makes you realize the things many of us take for granted, and it means a lot to know we’re helping so many,” she says.
“But most of all, it’s great to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
Caring counts at BlueCross
Adam Davis, Alison Fox and Sara Shular won the 2017 BlueCross Pinnacle Peace of Mind Award for their actions to ensure members were safe during the Gatlinburg fire.
Read their story here.