Photographer: Amanda Naylor
WHY I VOLUNTEER
Danielle Van Dam
and baby Conner
I have had many personal struggles in my life (as we all have) but through it all, I have been lucky enough to have some very important people who have inspired me to follow my dreams and to never give up. But with the positive, there is also the negative people in life who tell you 'No. You can't do that. You will fail. Don't try.' Words hurt and stick with you. The positive words are often replaced with the negative tapes that play over and over in your head and just get stronger as time goes on. I don't want to be one of those tapes in anyone's head.
I have always felt a need to help others who struggle. It began at age 12, when I saw a news story about 12 year old Polly Klaas, who lived in a town near mine. She was having a slumber party, when a man broke in and kidnapped her. He murdered her, but thankfully was caught and convicted. But for some reason the story meant something more to me. Here was a girl my age, doing what 12 year olds do, have fun with their friends, when it was suddenly taken away. Maybe because it made it real and not just some random story grown ups tell us to stay away from strangers. I was too young to do anything to help so I cut out her photo from the newspaper and carried it with me. I still have it to this day.
Through my early years of coaching gymnastics and helping run summer gymnastics camps, I had many kids who were labeled the 'trouble makers.' None of the staff wanted to deal with them and I was happy to take them in my group. I think what helped them the most was to just stop and listen to them. They needed to be heard and they deserved to be heard. Outside of camp, I tried to create fun group outings for them. I think the most important thing to them, is what we all want in life, to be heard and know we matter.
On December 9, 1999, another girl was kidnapped in a town near mine. This time I was old enough to do something. When I first saw her photo on the news, it made my stomach turn. 7 year old, Xiana Fairchld, had a school photo exactly like mine. Same color shirt, same hair and same missing teeth. The more her story unfolded, the more I was drawn to do anything I could to help find her. I ultimately ended up moving in with her family and helping any way I could 24/7. I hung fliers, spoke at press conferences and went out with volunteers and the police to look for clues as to what had happened and where she could be. Walking through swamps, being hoisted down cliff sides, climbing up hills and down to sewers, we did everything we could to find her. Sadly, she was held for 9 months before she was murdered. The same man came back to the town and took another little girl. Again, we searched. Thankfully she escaped 4 days after being taken, was able to tell the police what had happened to her and Xiana and was brave enough to face him in court and put him away for life.
Many people ask how I can volunteer in this line of work. It is so sad and heartbreaking. But if YOU were the one who had gone missing or if you had a child or someone you knew, wouldn't you do anything to find them? Although I may not have known them personally, I feel a connection and need to do something.
The organizations below mean a lot to me. Whether I help a lot or a little, I feel hopeful, knowing that somehow I might make a small difference in someone's life.
(age 8) who escaped her kidnapper after 4 days
Cases I have volunteered for:
Amber Swartz - Jaycee Dugard - Christina Williams - Elizabeth Smart - Laci Peterson - Jessica Lunsford
Midsi Sanchez - Xiana Fairchild - Jonbenet Ramsey - Maddie Mccann - Caylee Anthony - Sandra Cantu
Polly Klaas - Danielle VanDam - Samantha Runnion - Lauren Spierer - Sierra Lamar - Aaliyah Ramirez
In loving memory of
Xiana LaShay Kapuali'i Fairchild
Born: July 8, 1992
Kidnapped: December 9, 1999