Carol Ann Cochran simply can’t imagine a life without volunteering. Whether it’s for Bloomsday, Rogers High School or Relay For Life, she puts her heart and soul into fundraisers, volunteer jobs and organizing events big and small – always to benefit others.
“For the last 22 years I’ve coordinated the Bloomsday Training Clinics – I know exactly how many years it’s been because the first year I did it with my 1-year-old daughter on my back,” said Cochran, sitting at the little coffee stand at Hillyard Baptist Church, where she’s a member of the congregation. “There were 875 people at the clinic last week – it’s just awesome.”
Cochran organizes the volunteers who help the weekly clinics run smoothly, but that’s not all.
On Bloomsday, she shows up early at the top of Doomsday Hill where she helps the famous vulture get dressed. Then she lines up alongside the course with her camera and takes pictures of every runner from the training clinics.
“I just hope I recognize them all,” said Cochran, “I think I get most of them.”
She grew up in Garfield, Wash., and came to Spokane for a job with Group Health Cooperative where she’s worked as a medical assistant for 23 years – with the same doctor.
“It’s a little unusual that I’ve been with Dr. Bingham for all those years,” said Cochran. “By now it’s sometimes like we can read each others’ minds. And Group Health is always very supportive of the volunteer work I do.”
Cochran’s Group Health colleague Betty Peters said Cochran is one of her favorite people.
“I’ve learned over the years working with Carol Ann both at work and at the Bloomsday training clinics that she always puts other people’s needs ahead of her own,” Peters wrote in an email. “I have never met anyone who gives so much of herself as she does and does not expect anything in return.”
Cochran has volunteered with Relay For Life – an American Cancer Society fundraiser – since 1999.
“I’m on the planning committee this year, I’m in charge of the silent auction,” said Cochran. “I lost my mom to lung cancer in 1996. It was after that I got involved with Relay For Life and decided to raise a lot of money. Without the money we can’t find a cure.”
Cochran is a member of Hillyard Baptist Church where she’s the wedding coordinator and the funeral director.
“I guess it kind of balances out,” she said, with a big smile.
She is also involved in feeding the Rogers football team every Saturday morning during the football season.
“We go through 30 dozen eggs in one morning, and the kids come over here and eat,” said Cochran.
Occasionally, knowing a few strong guys come in handy.
“We had to help a member of the congregation who needed a hospital bed at home,” Cochran said. “Those things are heavy, but some of the football players just came over and did it for us.”
Rogers High School is very important to Cochran who runs the concession stand there when needed, and pretty much shows up for anything the school puts on: plays, athletics and lectures.
“There was a kid, whose parents didn’t really come to anything at the school, who came up and thanked me for always being there,” said Cochran, and she gets a little teary-eyed. “That touched me. That really touched me.”
When asked how she keeps up with it all without burning out, she laughed and said she’s always over-extended.
“I remind myself that God only gives me what I can handle, and that if I keep God first, then everything else falls into place,” Cochran said. “What keeps me going is my faith; there is no question about it.”
And there’s this: every summer Cochran hosts a Japanese exchange student for Compass USA. Last year’s 15-year-old student made it through the recent tsunami and earthquakes in Japan, but is facing an uncertain future while the country tries to rebuild.
“She called and asked if she could come live with me again, and I said yes without hesitation,” said Cochran. “We’ll see if it happens.”
Cochran has hosted Japanese students for seven years, but this young woman made a special impression. She asked Cochran why there often was a frog depicted on her shirt, and Cochran explained the acronym FROG – Forever Rely on God.
“The morning she left she put a little crystal frog on my pillow, to remember her by,” said Cochran. “I really hope she comes back.”
It’s nearly impossible to list all the organizations Cochran volunteers with, but one can almost assume that if it has to do with curing cancer she’s involved somehow.
And now she’s putting together yet another cancer fundraiser.
“I’m going to do Bark for Life on May 14 at Rogers,” said Cochran. “It will be a minirelay where you can walk your dog and raise money for a cancer cure.”
Don’t have a dog? Not to worry, Cochran will have you covered: “The Humane Society will be there with dogs you can rent for the relay.”
Cochran doesn’t have a secret for successful fundraising or a magic bullet that makes a volunteer project a success.
“I do know a lot of people, I guess I have a very big network,” she said, pondering. “Mostly, it’s hard work. But it’s worth it because everything you give always comes back to you.”