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A heartfelt connection for superstar volunteer

Every February for the past twelve years, Jean McLarnon has been at the forefront of the Heart Foundation's Big Heart Appeal street collection in Tauranga, serving as a volunteer area coordinator. Her motivation stems from a family connection with heart disease, but it's also down to her passion for making a difference in her community.

"I enjoy volunteering because it allows me to be out and about with people and helping others. Since I retired, working alongside a great team of volunteers has become extremely important to me,” says Jean.  

The Big Heart Appeal street collection will be held on Friday 23 February and Saturday 24 February 2024, and the Heart Foundation is currently looking for more amazing volunteers like Jean to show their big hearts.

“It's a busy time, but it's only for two days, and there's always plenty to do. It's about bringing people together and being available for them. They never turn me down, and once they're on my list, they'll be there forever.”

In 2014, Jean's world was shaken when her partner, Bruce, was suffering from shortness of breath and went for a checkup with his GP. He was quickly taken to Waikato hospital after they discovered the cause was a blockage in the arteries surrounding his heart.

“The situation was critical, but thanks to the amazing medical team of surgeons at the hospital and a life-saving quadruple bypass operation, Bruce's life was spared.”

This transformative event not only saved Bruce but also ignited a spark within Jean to give back and help others facing similar health challenges.

“We were so thankful during the time of his recovery, and with Bruce being such a positive person, we decided to give something back,” she says. “We knew the Heart Foundation were so good because without the heart research they fund, operations like Bruce’s wouldn’t have been possible.”

Jean and Bruce became a fixture in their local community, tirelessly working to coordinate volunteers and organise fundraising efforts for the annual Big Heart Appeal. She believes in the power of unity and collaboration. "When you work with like-minded people who share the same passion and determination, you can achieve remarkable things together," she says.

Unfortunately, despite the successful surgery, Bruce passed away in 2022 due to complications related to his heart condition. This loss only intensified Jean's commitment to the Heart Foundation's mission of supporting heart health research and education. She decided to turn her grief into a powerful force for change.

"Supporting the Heart Foundation is crucial because it truly is a lifesaver. Many people have to contend with heart issues, and nearly everyone knows someone who's had heart problems,” she says. “It's important that people are aware help is available for them, and they should never be afraid to ask for assistance or get checked out. It's remarkable to see how much the Heart Foundation has contributed to improving heart surgery over the years."

Jean's influence goes far beyond her role as an area coordinator. She encourages her volunteers to connect with the community, share stories and spread awareness about heart health. Her personal experiences resonate with many, and her authenticity and compassion make her a natural leader.

"For those contemplating volunteering, my advice is to remember that a lot of people know someone who has had heart problems, so they're more willing to help out. I just talk to people and explain what we do, and that can usually get them on the list of volunteers easily,” she says.

The impact of Jean's work has been significant. The funds raised through the Big Heart Appeal have played a crucial role in supporting groundbreaking research and heart health education programmes. This has helped many individuals understand the importance of maintaining a healthy heart, preventing heart disease and seeking early treatment.

“Sometimes, people put their names forward , and even if I'm already full, I'll find a way to use them somewhere. If I don't, they might never come back. Many of our volunteers are getting older and aren't in the best health, so we always need more people. We welcome all the help we can get, and I encourage them to bring a friend with them.”

Jean has cultivated a tight-knit group of volunteers who return year after year, inspired by her commitment to the cause and the sense of purpose she instils in the team. She is not just a volunteer with a heart of gold; she is a driving force for change in a world that often overlooks the simple kindness of normal people. 

“I always make sure to go back and thank the volunteers for what they do,” she says. “In fact, I even bake cakes not just for volunteers but also for the shop owners where we stand outside, as a token of our appreciation. I'm grateful that they allow us to be outside during our fundraising efforts and I want them to know that they’re helping us."

Jean believes that the Heart Foundation's Big Heart Appeal street collection is not just an annual event. It's a time for hope, healing, and people coming together. Her dedication and inspiration bring her community closer, making sure that her partner Bruce's memory lives on through the many lives she helps and the important work she supports.

Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, even someone you love – sign up as a Big Heart Appeal street collection volunteer to help fund life-saving heart research today.

Sign up now