Volunteer Spotlight: How Tom Feulner Turned a Personal Novel into a Volunteer Relationship

Jul 20, 2011 5:30 PM ET

Volunteer Spotlight

When Tom Feulner was seventeen, he was thinking about making Amy Engel his girlfriend. Amy was a pretty, very intelligent girl with a smile that could light up a room and a constantly optimistic outlook on life that brightened Tom’s own broody poetic moods.

So when Amy was diagnosed with leukemia, and when it became clear that she would not survive, Tom struggled to understand how such a fate could take such a wonderful person. They grew closer over the course of Amy’s illness, depending on each other and becoming adults before either of them were ready. When Amy passed away, Tom knew this experience would shape the rest of his life.

Ten years later Tom finished his first novel. “Love or at Least Lust and Friendship” chronicles that time with Amy and how the disease that brought them so close together also took them apart. He wrote it for Amy, and he wrote it for himself. “I wanted a record of Amy's life through my eyes,” he says. “I wanted other people to know her and understand her courage.”

For some, perhaps, writing a book would have been catharsis enough, but Tom knew he had to do more. Amy inspired Tom to think about other people. “When she was announced terminal,” he says, “Amy requested that any useful remains be donated to science. To the cause. To help other people avoid her fate.” Tom felt the need to continue Amy’s selflessness, so he decided to donate all the proceeds from the sale of his book to charity.

Amy hadn’t been outside in weeks, which is actually years in hospital time, so she skipped as we walked along. I can still see her now, in her sky blue slippers with the white clouds on them, stopping every so often to smell a flower or touch the leaves of a tree. She looked like she was in a fairy tale. ~ excerpt from “Love or at Least Lust and Friendship”

With this decision, Tom became a volunteer. He volunteered his skills at writing and connecting with people on the page, he volunteered his time, and he volunteered his money to help others that are dealing with similar struggles.

Click here to read the rest of Tom's story | Read more stories of engagement & social change

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