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CFC Keyworker Thompson Inspires Coworkers

By Don Luckett

Donald Thompson hadn't a clue what he was getting into when he agreed to be a keyworker for the NIH Combined Federal Campaign. "I was the new kid on the block," he says. "I just arrived here June third." Thompson was still getting used to his job as a program assistant in the neural environment cluster at NINDS.

"Donald, you'll be perfect," said his administrative team leader, Dr. Ursula Utz. She told him how approachable he is and how much he makes people smile and laugh. However, Utz didn't know how personal experiences with CFC charities would make him a great keyworker.

Thompson's experiences began when he volunteered to help those struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse. For 30 years, he had been burdened by a family secret: "My mother passed when I was only 15...with a bottle of alcohol beside her bed." While his father worked, Thompson became a principal caregiver for his four younger sisters and even his older brother. In 1989 — by helping others — Thompson finally found some release from the regret and sadness he still felt. Since then, he has been a volunteer with Montgomery General Hospital, working with patients in its detoxification program. "I enjoy my life now, doing whatever I can for people," he says.

Donald Thompson meets with his institute's CFC coordinator, Retha Anderson, who was so moved by his story she helped it become a "CFC Story of the Week" at http://cfc.nih.gov.

Thompson also stepped forward when the Intercity AIDS Network in Washington, D.C., needed volunteers to educate the community about HIV/AIDS and substance abuse. His spirited efforts led to a job as an administrative assistant for a company under contract to the National Institute on Drug Abuse to train substance abuse and HIV/AIDS educators. In his spare time, he also volunteered for the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Us Helping Us, which assist those dealing with HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and other health concerns.

Last month, Thompson sat at his computer to send his first CFC email to his coworkers. "Things started to flow," he says, and soon he found himself describing how — after years of supporting charities — he recently had needed one himself: "Food and Friends delivered hot meals to me on a daily basis while I was recovering from prostate cancer just 1 year ago. As a grateful cancer survivor and free of the disease now...I do what I can to help.

"I couldn't believe I wrote that," Thompson says as he paused at his computer, knowing the risks of revealing such personal information. But then, knowing how real the need is, he clicked the "send" button. "I can't change the world," he explains, "but I can share my experience and hope."

Coworkers Maria Garcia (l) and Toya Rogers rally around Thompson.

Thompson was touched by the support that followed. The first person to read his email gave him a big hug. The rest of his coworkers also responded enthusiastically — 75 percent of them have made CFC pledges. "It overwhelmed me," says Retha Anderson, the CFC coordinator at NINDS, speaking about Thompson's CFC appeal. She now frequently discusses the campaign with him and considers him a friend.

Thompson couldn't be happier. "I love people and I can't live in this world without them," he says. "And you know Barbra Streisand said it very well, 'People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.'"


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