MARY LOU EARNS HER WINGS
By Tara McQuinley, AARP Cincinnati Intern
As I entered the Dragonfly Foundation, a patient family center affectionately called, “The Landing”, Mary Lou Parrott was waiting for me behind the welcome desk with a bright smile. She is short in stature, but high in energy. The Landing is an area filled with comfy couches and countless things to play with, from arcade video games to a karaoke stage, designed to provide comfort and joy to families battling cancer. As Mary Lou took me on a tour her passion and energy was contagious. It was immediately evident why Dragonfly chose to put this volunteer in charge of patient and family registration.
In August of 2012 Mary Lou watched as Cincinnati Reds baseball announcer Marty Brennaman had his head shaved in front of thousands at Great American Ballpark. The gesture was in support of the Dragonfly Foundation and he sported one of their originally designed shirts reading “I Am Still Me” as his shock of white hair fell to the ground. A short time after, a dragonfly landed on Parrott’s hand in her garden, leading her to answer what she felt was “like a calling” to get involved with the foundation.
Two years later, Mary Lou is an indispensable resource at the foundation. Co-founder Ria Davidson says: “All of our volunteers are phenomenal, but she’s family.” Officially, Mary Lou is in charge of entering family and patient information into the system. Every time a family signs up to be a Dragonfly, she is the one they speak to. “You can feel her warmth and kindness and generosity of spirit – it just exudes from her. What a perfect welcome she is,” Davidson says.
Parrott goes beyond her registration duties and volunteers at events. She also has taken on the task of matching gifts that have been specifically chosen for each individual new “Dragonfly”. Co-founder Christine Neitzke explains: “When you become a Dragonfly you get a shirt and a bag of gifts…We don’t send 50 baby dolls or 50 Barbie dolls to the hospital. [Mary Lou] looks at the registration and finds out what they enjoy and what would bring them comfort.”
If a certain gift isn’t among the countless donated toys and games Mary Lou will try to get it donated or take one of the gift cards and order it. Ria says: “It’s not just talking, it’s listening. It’s finding out what they need. Most people can ask for what they want but they don’t always know what they need.”
Mary Lou is retired, and even though she has undergone several procedures to treat skin cancer her commitment to Dragonfly remains strong: “This is my job now. Some people can donate a lot of money or a lot of toys; I can donate my time. Looking at it as a job is a great way to approach a volunteer position.” Ironically, the co-founders have tried to offer Mary Lou a paid position, but she turned them down. When I asked her what she gets from volunteering, she replied: “I love the kids … and it has also made me look at people differently. When people are not the friendliest to me I just think that they may have something going on in their life that I don’t know about. They might be dealing with their own struggles. I have also seen the generosity of others, and it is overwhelming.” When Mary Lou is not working at The Landing she helps her daughter in her flower shop. Speaking with Mary Lou made me believe in the overwhelming generosity of others, too.
To volunteer with the Dragonfly Foundation visit https://www.dragonfly.org and click support. You can also help by donating to the Building Joy – One Brick at a Time campaign to help them achieve their goal of having a permanent location to continue surrounding families with support and love.
**The Landing was made possible by the generosity of Matson Money and the Matson Family!