Carol Hasbrouck's life already had its share of tragedies, then in January it seemed like she had hit rock bottom when she was "downsized" after being in the mortgage business for 23 years.
"As you can imagine, it's pretty ugly in Florida right now," said the St. Petersburg resident. "I was looking for a job and then I thought, 'Why are you looking for something you don't like? That's just stupid.'"
Hasbrouck, 56, is trained to teach the Passion Test, which helps people to find what they love in life, and she decided to try it on herself.
"I love to travel and I love to help people," Hasbrouck said. "I've been volunteering since I was 16-years-old and worked for a little boy, Tommy, who has Down Syndrome — and he stole my heart. I've been helping people ever since."
Hasbrouck founded Dames Gone Wild, a charitable organization whose members perform all sorts of volunteer service work. It's motto is: "Helping People, Pets and Planets." Its mission is to serve, connect and repair people, especially women who have experienced loss.
"Most women our age have experienced losses and feel life is over — and for a lot of us, life has just begun," Hasbrouck said. "I lost my husband, then fell in love with a man who died. My two sons moved out and I lost all of my retirement savings and money in Real Estate investments."
Road to Monroe
Hasbrouck knew what type of charitable organization she wanted, but she didn't know how to get things started.
"When I don't know how to do something, I put it out to God to show me the way and three days later I saw a Parade magazine article where a father and his two sons started Twelve In Twelve," she said. "They went out to 12 countries in 12 months doing 12 service projects. So I thought, if he can do it, I can do it. I decided to stay in the U.S., because we need help here."
Hasbrouck currently has the goal of traveling 12,000 miles in 12 months, while performing 1,500 hours of volunteer work throughout the United States.
One day, she told her roommate, Joyce Claflin, 60, about her plans.
"I asked her to stay with the dogs and the cats," Hasbrouck recalled. "She said, 'No. I want to go too.'"
Claflin said, "I was in a part-time job that I was unhappy with. I'm also a massage therapist and nothing was happening with that. I was praying to God for something and there it came. I knew this was it. I felt like my soul was dying and now it's free, so I jumped off the cliff."
Claflin said she has suffered a personal tsunami of emotional loss in her own life. Her finances also took a hit. "I went through bankruptcy and had to move in with people. I was almost homeless," she said.
Since June 20, The women have been to Atlanta, Louisville, Chicago, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, the upper Peninsula of Michigan and down to Detroit, to Olcott, N.Y. in Niagra Falls; across the state of New York, to Burlington, Vt.; New Hampshire; Portland, Maine; Boston and ... Monroe, Conn.
On Monday and Wednesday, Dames Gone Wild volunteered at the Monroe Food Pantry, stocking shelves and helping shoppers.
Wendy Jolls, coordinator of the food pantry, said, "I was excited and honored that they reached out to us actually, because of all the organizations they could have reached out to they chose us. And I think what they're doing is wonderful. If more people did things like that, the world would be a better place."
Cleaning and Organizing
Before reaching each destination, Hasbrouck and Claflin call ahead to find potential charitable organizations to help.
Hasbrouck said, "Nine out of 10 times, when we call an organization they say, 'What do you want to do?' And we say, 'We'll do anything.'"
"We were gluing wheels onto chairs," Claflin said.
"And digging ditches," Hasbrouck added.
One of the places the women volunteered at was N.E.W. Curative Rehabilitation Inc. in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which has services for youth, seniors and people with disabilities. Claflin said they cooked, cleaned toilets, picked up mail and bought toiletries or the homeless.
Hasbrouck said, "It's been rewarding because it's the last thing they can get to with budget cuts."
Other organizations include Habitat for Humanity in Ashville, N.C.; the Humane Society for dogs and cats in three different locations; Puppets in Education in Burlington, Vt.; the Cancer Community Center in Portland; and Core El Centro, which works with the Spanish community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Most of the work Hasbrouck and Claflin have done consists of cleaning and organizing.
"When we left the house, Carol said to me, 'We don't have to clean for months," Claflin said with a smile.
'We Keep Our Shirts On'
Dames Gone Wild is fully funded by donations from family, friends and perfect strangers. "We are not wealthy people at all," Hasbrouck said, adding donations can be made on the website damesgonewild.com.
"People say to us, 'You're so inspiring and courageous and we say, 'Really?'" Hasbrouck said. "In telling our stories, we're inspiring people to take the risk and jump off the cliff without a parachute."
After completing their 1,500 volunteer hours, Hasbrouck plans on writing a book about their travels. She also foresees new chapters run by people who want to be a Dame or a Dude Gone Wild.
When asked how she came up with the name Dames Gone Wild, Hasbrouck replied, "It just came to me. I didn't know anything about Girls Gone Wild. I Googled 'Dames Gone Wild' just to see what came up and saw Girls Gone Wild and my jaw fell to my knees."
"A lot of times the men have funny reactions, but we don't care, because they'll remember us," Hasbrouck said. "And we keep our shirts on."