By Elena Miliaresis
Have you ever wanted to make a difference in the world using your unique skills, but not known where to start? For me, the need to turn a difficult experience into something positive became my driving force.
On Memorial Day weekend 2004, my life changed forever when Brian, my boyfriend of two years and a Marine, told me he was deploying to Iraq. When he left, I feared I would never see him alive again. Time stopped.
For seven months, I held my breath and waited. Alone.
I tried to live my best life under the circumstances, to make myself believe I was fine. But, I wasn’t prepared for the effect of the overwhelming anxiety. My back went out, I couldn’t breath deeply without pain, and my heart hurt. I prayed he would come home safely.
Luckily, he did.
I thought I would cry on his shoulder, and we would move on. I didn’t know how deeply I was scarred. I couldn’t even watch war movies without sobbing- every person on that battlefield was Brian. I realized I needed to take action.
I needed to be of service, to help others going through the same thing. As a television producer, my gift is to visually tell compelling stories. Military families serve in silence, and I could give them a voice. I could help families feel less alone by sharing their perspective of wartime courage and sacrifice.
My mission became to create a documentary called While Time Stands Still (WhileTimeStandsStill.com) that would both help families cope with the trauma of war, and educate the greater public. The movie would follow two wives through their experience with combat deployment and include interviews from families of all branches of the military.
My conviction that While Time Stands Still was urgently needed inspired others to get involved. Colleagues, friends, and strangers volunteered their time, resources, and equipment to help make While Time Stands Still a reality. Local military support groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion recognized the importance of the documentary and gave their assistance. Already, the project is spreading support for families.
By combining my professional talents with a cause I was deeply connected to, I found my mission.
So how can you identify a tailor made cause that will speak to your heart and utilize your unique gifts? Focus on two areas: pinpoint your passion and tap into your skills. Then, you will be on the right track.
Once you’ve identified a cause that speaks to you, a site such as CharityNavigator.org can help you find an organization that shares your same goals. Then, you can reach out to the nonprofit, school, or community group, and volunteer your talents. You can also take your own initiative. Your library may need your performance skills to read to kids to help improve literacy. You can plan a fundraising concert and donate the proceeds to groups furthering musical education. If you are crafty, you can knit scarves to send to our troops.
Your unique skills can make a huge difference. I have found that no greater reward exists than knowing you are helping others by doing what you do best.
Filmmaker Elena Miliaresis is currently directing and producing the nonpartisan documentary “While Time Stands Still,” which tells the intimate and dramatic story of America’s military families at war. Using her years of experience directing, writing, and producing documentaries and news for ABC Network News and E! Entertainment, Elena is creating documentaries that inspire healing and positive change. For more information, visit WhileTimeStandsStill.com.