Nemours Children’s Hospital,
– Advocacy and storytelling often go hand in hand. For Lauren Nelson, a philanthropy associate at Nemours Children’s Hospital, those two roles are inseparable.
When you’re genuinely passionate about a cause, it’s very easy to advocate and to get involved.
Advocacy and storytelling often go hand in hand. For Lauren Nelson, a philanthropy associate at Nemours Children’s Hospital, those two roles are inseparable.
“You have to tell stories to connect the community and your donors to the work that’s happening,” she said, “and to share the impact their support makes in the lives of children and families in need.”
Roughly 70% of children at Nemours have chronic and complex medical needs, and about 70% are on Medicaid or uninsured. “These families face incredible hardships,” Nelson said. “But what I love about my role as an advocate and professional fundraiser is that I’m a conduit to connect compassionate people to opportunities that provide hope and healing.”
Nelson is actively involved in fundraising efforts to build innovative programs and services at Nemours. One such program is PedsAcademy, a hospital education program in partnership with the University of Central Florida (UCF).
When children go back to school after extended periods of time in treatment, Nelson explained, they can easily fall behind and feel overwhelmed. “Participating in PedsAcademy helps them to feel inspired, excited and hopeful about their future. If we can use things like Lego robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality, we’re giving them fun ways to stay engaged in learning while they’re healing.”
She is also engaged in efforts to support the Nemours Graduate Medical Education program in Orlando aimed at solving the projected disparity between the growing number of children in Florida and the limited number of available medical professionals who specialize in children’s medicine. “We are training the next generation of doctors, and studies show that 70% of those doctors stay within a 100-mile radius of where they trained,” Nelson said. “At Nemours, we want to help elevate the level of care available to children in Florida for generations to come.”
Nelson’s work with donors has enabled other exciting developments at Nemours, including a program that uses technology and simulation to empower parents with the knowledge they need to care for their children once they’re discharged from the hospital. Another donor-funded project is a renovated sensory gym designed with input from Nemours physical therapists that includes an indoor play structure to provide therapeutic health benefits for children while they play.
“When the work I’m engaged in with a donor can help alleviate issues or change the hospital experience in a positive way, those are the experiences I draw upon when I feel overwhelmed and stressed,” Nelson said. “It’s such a privilege and honor to go to work every day knowing that the work my organization does is impacting, changing and even saving lives.”
For Nelson, that spirit isn’t limited to her full-time work. She is an adjunct professor teaching in the same nonprofit management program at UCF where she received her master’s degree.
Nelson is also actively engaged with a women’s mentoring group she helped organize and co-leads with Dana Bledsoe, the former president of Nemours in Orlando. She is a mentor and Advisory Board member for the Valencia Horizon Scholars program; actively involved in the ATHENA Orlando NextGen program that develops women leaders; and president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Lake Como School K-8, which her sons attend.
“There are so many wonderful causes someone can choose to advocate for in Central Florida. I’ve been fortunate to work for organizations whose missions I believed in strongly — and still do,” said Nelson, who has also held professional roles at the Orlando Science Center, Best Buddies International, the Orlando Repertory Theatre and the American Cancer Society.
She says the best way for people to get started and stay motivated as advocates is to find something they feel passionate about. If you want to give back but aren’t exactly sure how or where, Nelson said, volunteering is a fantastic first step.
“I’ve had many friends, family members, colleagues and students who found ways to advocate for a particular mission after they started volunteering,” she said. “Some opportunities have turned into new career paths or board leadership roles, or even led someone to become a donor.”
When you’re passionate about the work you’re engaged in — professionally or as a volunteer — it’s easy to stay inspired and motivated as an advocate, Nelson said. “Anything I can do to help a child or family in need is motivation enough to keep going in this work.”