Community Volunteer, Karen Ali ’78 Completes Project at Good Grief
Good Grief, Assistant Anthology Editor
In the early winter of 2013, Karen Ali ‘78 was seeking an opportunity to use her professional skills and continue her extensive history of volunteering in the Princeton community. After attending Global Net Night at the AlumniCorps offices, she was connected to Good Grief for a project that could use her professional editing skills. Good Grief was seeking a volunteer who could edit an anthology of children’s essays about their grief journey. Karen connected with the project on both a professional and personal level.
Good Grief, Inc. was founded in December 2003 by a group of volunteers concerned about the lack of ongoing, effective grief support services and grief education in New Jersey. Good Grief’s mission is to normalize grief in our communities through education, advocacy and year-round grief support programs for grieving children, teens and adults. Good Grief offers a loving and supportive community, a home and a refuge, for New Jersey’s grieving children. Through peer-support programs and educational workshops, Good Grief creates a community and environment that normalizes grief and honors the individual grief journey.
Karen received her law degree from the University of Michigan. She worked for many years as the Vice President of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs for the New Jersey Hospital Association and also worked as the Director of Diversity at Pepper Hamilton LLP. She has volunteered for many nonprofits including Friends of the New Jersey State Museum, Literacy Volunteers in Mercer County and Dress for Success Mercer County. She is an active tiger, currently serving as a member of the Fred Fox Class of 1939 Fund Committee and an alumni interviewer.
How did you get connected to Princeton AlumniCorps and Community Volunteers?
I came to Global NetNight in February of 2013. At the event, I learned about Community Volunteers and the opportunity for alums to participate in short-term, high-impact projects for nonprofits. I talked with Rachel Benevento, who was then the Program Coordinator for Community Volunteers, about the program. I filled out the form and forgot about it until I received a telephone call from Rachel in the middle of the summer of 2013 with information about the Good Grief project.
What interested you specifically about CV and the project with Good Grief?
I was attracted to the general idea of how Community Volunteers works¬–helping nonprofits with short-term, high-impact projects¬–and was interested in using my editing skills. I strongly believe in giving back and CV projects are an excellent way to engage alumni based on their skills. I also connected to the project on a personal level because of my own grief journe¬y: losing my three-year-old nephew, Ross as a result of a car accident and then 10 months later, losing my 48-year-old brother, Patrick due to illness.
What were the specifications of your job and what skills have you used or gained?
The job was an editing job. I was able to refresh my professional editing skills and use them in a different way. I have never edited personal stories before and this was a whole new way of using my skills while still maintaining the individuality of each story. After the project, I feel that I am able to effectively edit narratives and personal stories and connect with what the person was trying to communicate. It was a great skill to gain.
Had you done work like this before, or was it a new experience?
Yes. I have done editing before, but this was different. Although I used my professional editing skills, this project went well beyond that. You do not want to change a personal story or change the meaning. There were a few stories that were hard to edit because of personal memories and the way they were expressed. I had to work within those parameters and maintain the content, while editing to make the stories readable. The stories written by teens in the project were excellent.
What was the biggest challenge of the project? What were the biggest rewards?
The biggest challenge was maintaining the personal flavor of the stories and not wanting to change the substance of the writer’s memories or feelings. On a personal level, the process was very cathartic. I learned that the grieving process is an ongoing journey. There is no one time when someone stops grieving; there is no “statute of limitations” on the grief process. I also realized how important it is to continue to share stories about your loved one with family and friends. This project confirmed what I already knew about the grief process and gave me new insight into what my family and I should do to continue to honor my nephew and brother’s memories.
What would you tell potential volunteers about CV to encourage them to do it?
Try it; you will definitely like it. It will enrich your life and you will learn from the experience even if you think you have nothing left to learn. You can always learn something: self-learning, skills learning, organizational learning. The experience gave me a real sense of accomplishment and made me feel good about myself. I would definitely do it again.
For more information on opportunities with Community Volunteers, please visit our website or contact Program Coordinator, Caryn Tomljanovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.