This post is part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who are making a difference in their communities.
Julie Flygare, J.D., President & CEO, Project Sleep
What inspired you to start giving?
You could say, a low point in my life inspired me to start giving. After being diagnosed with narcolepsy while in law school, I was surprised to learn that this chronic neurological condition was much more serious than public perceptions of the condition in movies and on TV.
I was also fascinated to learn about researchers' progress to unravel the mystery of what causes narcolepsy to develop in certain individuals like myself. This also led me to study rare disease drug development in law school.
Two years after my diagnosis, after graduating from law school, I took on the Boston Marathon to raise funds for narcolepsy research, even though I was in terrible shape and didn't know anyone with my condition who had run a marathon before. I was determined to start DOING something to make a difference.
What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?
I caught the "giving bug" - the best chronic condition ever. Once I started sharing my story and giving back to my community, I found a new source of positive energy, passion and fulfillment in my life.
Since then, I've founded a non-profit called Project Sleep to advocate and raise awareness about sleep health and sleep disorders, co-founded the first-ever scholarship program for students with narcolepsy, launched a leadership program to train speakers and writers. I also published "Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy" in 2012.
It's always strange when people say "thank me for your efforts." Of course I appreciate their appreciation. But honestly, it is the honor and joy of my lifetime to give back to others and help to build a brighter future together. Giving back makes my own experience with this condition worth it.
What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.
This is an amazing time to get involved and give back because the internet has truly connected people who care about causes around the world and made it simple to build your own platform.
My biggest advice would be 1. do your research and 2. start anywhere, don't wait for permission.
First: Use the internet to learn about what organizations and individuals are out there in your space. Check for Facebook Groups dedicated to your cause and search Twitter and Instagram hashtags to learn what people are talking about in real-time.
Second: There are big issues we want to solve, but I'd encourage people to jump in and to start becoming part of the solution as quickly as possible. Don't be paralyzed by perfection and don't wait for anyone to give you permission. Just get started in small ways: volunteer for a non-profit that aligns with your goals, start a blog, make a small gift, even if it's not as much as you'd like it to be. These small things will start adding up and you'll learn a lot along the way!
Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.
Every year, I call the Jack & Julie Narcolepsy Scholarship recipients to tell them that they've been awarded a scholarship through our program.
This past year, when I called one of the Jack & Julie Narcolepsy Scholarship recipients to tell her she'd won the award, she broke down crying. She said, "Narcolepsy has been such a huge challenge in my life, so to earn something because of this experience..... it meant so much more than I could ever express."
Tears quickly fell down my cheeks hearing the emotion in her voice. I am just another person living with this condition. I'd run a marathon just a few months earlier to help raise funds for the scholarship program, and while crossing the finish line was an amazing moment, this phone call was my real prize. To know that my efforts and the support of many generous donors coming together, we'd made a positive moment in this young woman's life with narcolepsy... There's no greater gift in the world than this.