Stories to Inspire

Since 2013, Shana Stern has actively participated in MSAA’s Art Showcase campaign, where people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) submit images of their talented artwork for display on our website gallery, promotional materials, and social media platforms. Shana’s bold and vibrant paintings reflect not just her artistry, but also her willingness to rise above the ongoing challenges of multiple sclerosis. Diagnosed with MS in 1999, Shana battles a variety of symptoms including extreme fatigue, pain, drop foot, and visual difficulties. In addition, Shana also has a loss of feeling in her right arm and fingers, which limits her ability to hold or grasp any small object – including a paint brush.

Frustrated by constantly dropping the brush and her inability to control the path of the paint, Shana was forced to once again work around the impact of MS and find a solution. While sitting on the floor, Shana discovered that she could balance the canvas on her knees and paint with her fingers and knuckles. By adapting to this new and unique style, Shana has regained control of her artistic abilities and found an even deeper connection to her love of painting. “Getting lost in the music I paint to and helping the colors dance across the canvas with my fingers has become my mental, spiritual, and emotional therapy,” said Shana. “We may get knocked down a bit and have to work a little harder, but we are capable of great things such as bringing beauty and art into the world! Yes, I have MS, but I am an artist.”

Not surprisingly, Shana’s son Walker Reynolds, 12, also shares a love for art and the ability to reach beyond the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. Inspired by his mother’s spirit and determination, Walker also wanted to get involved with MSAA and help make a difference. While on the MSAA website, Walker discovered our Swim for MS fundraising campaign, where volunteers can create their own swim activity, set a challenge goal, and collect pledges from family and friends to help support the organization’s programs and services.

As a self-described “fish,” Walker’s love of swimming and the ability to raise funds while having fun in the pool made for a perfect match. Despite being 11 years old at the time and having no prior fundraising experience, Walker dove right in and registered for Swim for MS. Starting in June 2016, Walker dedicated his summer to swimming one minute for each dollar donated, with the ambitious goal of raising $1,600. On his fundraising page, Walker stated: “My goal is to raise $1,600, which is $100 for each year my mom has struggled with MS. Daily she battles fatigue, numbness, pain and vision loss (which stinks when I need homework help!). Because her symptoms are ‘invisible’ I want to educate others and also inspire others like she inspires me!”

With Shana and Walker’s permission, MSAA began promoting their remarkable story to the local media and within the MSAA community. By summer’s end, with the support of their family, friends, and other contributors, Walker not only reached, but exceeded his goal and raised more than $1,800 to help support the MS community. As one can imagine, MSAA is extremely proud to recognize the amazing love and inspiration of Shana Stern and Walker Reynolds by honoring them at this year’s Improving Lives Benefit.

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MS Awareness Month: A Chance to Make a Difference!

By: Meagan Freeman

Every March, we have the opportunity to share our own stories and participate actively in spreading awareness about multiple sclerosis. The possibilities are endless, ranging from the MSAA “Swim for MS” fundraiser, MS biking events, MS walks, read-a-thons for our children in schools, and any other activity that might assist in spreading knowledge about our illness. This disease continues to be poorly understood by many, and it is still considered rare, with an incidence of 1 in 1000 in the US currently. The need for awareness has never been greater, and we can all have a hand in educating others. If we each take on the task of sharing information with those around us, knowledge can spread like wildfire.

Many patients find that they are unable to participate in these activities to support MS awareness. Many fundraisers are physical, such as running, walking, biking, and swimming events. Sometimes, the thought of participating in an event like these can be daunting for those with physical disabilities. Some patients might think, “How can I possibly participate in these?” There are a myriad of options for those who may not have the ability to actually take part in a physical event, however.

Fundraising while a family member or friend completes the physical part of the event is a wonderful option. I have had several friends participate in local MS “muckfest” and running events, while I took on the task of raising donations. I helped advertise and share information, while my runner friend completed the event. We managed to raise $2000 together last year alone. No amount of money raised is too little, and no one should feel like they cannot make an impact.

Another option is to spread awareness through blogging, speaking and writing. My personal contribution to MS awareness continues to be my blog. I started this blog with the goal of sharing my own personal experiences with MS in order to educate, and to ensure that no patient ever feels isolated or alone. The simple act of sharing your story may have a greater impact than you ever imagined. The thought of helping others simply by sharing your story is incredible! You never know who needs to hear your experience at that very moment.

Whether you choose to donate to an MS organization such as MSAA, to participate in an MS event, or simply share knowledge and educate through writing or speaking, you can make a difference. If every MS patient takes on the challenge of increasing awareness about our illness, we are capable of making sweeping changes. Let’s work together during the month of March (and beyond,) to increase knowledge, share our stories, and have a personal impact on finding the eventual cure for multiple sclerosis.

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Flying High!

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

Justin Yuhaze

Our local NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers, is known for its recognition of those who give of themselves to their community. Their Flyers Hometown Hero program was developed to recognize organizations and individuals that make a positive difference in the lives of others. The Flyers award each Hometown Hero with two tickets to a Flyers game, a personalized Flyers jersey and recognition on the scoreboard during the game. Last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets recognized South Jersey resident Justin Yuhaze for his contributions to MSAA and the MS community.

Justin was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis himself, an event that left him with the realization that he didn’t know much about MS. Immediately, he began educating himself about every aspect of MS. “I didn’t know much about MS at this point, but I stopped in at MSAA in Cherry Hill, NJ and they were able to provide me with books, magazines, and told me about an upcoming lecture on the history of medical treatments for MS,” says Justin.

Then Justin decided to participate in MSAA’s Swim for MS fundraising initiative, where he dove into action to help raise awareness and funds to support individuals, like him, who are living with MS. Justin and his wife Julie joined volunteers all across the country who have created their own swim challenge while recruiting online donations to support the vital programs and services offered by MSAA. Justin and his family surpassed their goal, adding to the more than $320,000 that has been raised through Swim for MS.

“We swam all over South Jersey in pools, lakes, and the ocean. Together we swam over 13 miles. By swimming, we can raise awareness about this incurable disease, and provide help to those who need it most. Our fundraising efforts can provide cooling vests, wheelchairs, fund MRI’s, and educational programs and services.”

Thank you Justin for being a part of Swim for MS and supporting our many vital services. Thank you Philadelphia Flyers for recognizing one of the many heroes who give back to their communities! Go Flyers!

To read more about Justin and his Swim for MS challenge or to make a donation, please visit his Swim for MS webpage.

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give. 

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Monday is a Day of Service

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

In 1994, Congress declared the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King to be a day of service. Each year, citizens all across the country honor Dr. King’s memory by participating in acts of service that benefit their community. This Monday, January 19th, we encourage you to help improve lives today for the multiple sclerosis community as your act of service.

MLK 2015

Start volunteering today!

Need some ideas to help the MS community?

1. Donate your time by creating a fundraising event to benefit MSAA.
2. Participate in Swim for MS.
3. Make a purchase from a company that supports charitable causes.
4. Make a monetary contribution.
5. Sign up for our Street Squad program and begin spreading the word about MSAA.
6. Perform random acts of kindness for someone in your community.

We would love to hear how you are spending your Monday. Let us know what fun activities you’ll be doing either here or on our Facebook page.

MLK Day infographic

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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The Overhead Solution

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

Several of my articles and posts have focused on the Overhead Myth – the commonly held belief that financial ratios are the sole indicator of a nonprofit’s performance. Over the last year, it has become widely agreed that stars and ratios do not clearly communicate a nonprofit’s impact or show that we are meeting our mission.

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America has joined BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and GuideStar in the pledge to end the Overhead Myth and move toward an Overhead Solution. Instead of focusing on the percentage of charity’s expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs-commonly referred to as “overhead”-we need to focus on what really matters: trustworthiness and performance.

Last year, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator, published an open letter to the donors of America denouncing the use of the “overhead ratio” as the sole indicator of nonprofit performance. The letter, signed by all three organizations’ CEOs, marked the beginning of a campaign to correct the common misconception about the importance of a low overhead ratio.

A new open letter, published in October on www.overheadmyth.com, educates and encourages nonprofits to work towards an Overhead Solution. Specifically, the letter asks nonprofits to do three things, “(1) demonstrate ethical practice and share data about performance (2) manage towards results and understand your true costs and (3) help educate funders on the real costs of results.” The letter goes on to provide resources to help nonprofits in this critical endeavor to measure and report on what matters most.

Join us in spreading the word about this important topic. Nonprofits and their supporters are encouraged to learn from and share the latest Overhead Myth letter. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. As always, please contact us if you have any questions at all.

Thank you for your support in this effort.

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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Swim for MS: Give me a T-E-A-M!

With the start of the new school year and a new swim team season, MSAA’s Swim for MS has seen tremendous support. All over the country, swim teams are working together raising money to improve the lives of those living with MS.

Swim for MS encourages volunteers to create their own challenge, such as swimming laps or set distances over a chosen period of time while collecting donations for their personal fundraising goal. These challenges can be done individually or through group swims by teams of young and old alike. The NCMP Aquagirls, a Girls’ High School Swim Team from Iowa, created an event that would push them into swim shape early while creating awareness and raising funds. Their team captain, Rachel, challenged the team to swimming 50,000 total laps during the month of September. They collected pledges in August and September to raise over $1,000 for Swim for MS.

NCMP Aquagirls

NCMP Aquagirls

Lexie and team

Lexie & Team at her Swim for MS event

Volunteers also raise funds through a variety of unique one-day events such as pool parties, water-volleyball tournaments, and cannonball challenges. Unlike more traditional MS fundraising activities, Swim for MS allows individuals with MS at any stage in their journey – from the recently diagnosed to those with limited mobility – to benefit from water exercise and assist in raising donated funds for a vital cause. Lexi and her Swim for MS Team participated in a one day Swim for MS event held at her high school in Indianapolis and raised over $2,800 in September.

Just because October, November, and December are filled with back-to-back holiday parties, doesn’t mean you can’t organize a successful fundraiser! Stay on top of your game by encouraging a team effort for this fun event. Gather your Swim Team for a fundraising event everyone can do together. Show your school spirit by having a friendly competition between team colors, pick a side, and swim your heart out. Winning team gets bragging rights for the swim season!

On our SwimForMS.org website, you can read the profiles of some of our swimmers. They can inspire you and give you great ideas for your own Swim for MS challenge. We would like to thank everyone who has or will participate in Swim for MS!

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How do we know if we are doing a good job?

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development*

4553-abstract

As the debate continues around ratings, ratios, and watchdogs, nonprofits around the country are focused on how to accurately communicate their value. If ratings do not suitably portray the efficiency of an organization’s operations – then how do we know our dollars are being well spent? What is our impact?

Impact, in the nonprofit world, refers to the change in behavior that is a result of the activities and resources provided. For example, an organization provides a class and information on the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes, and finds that 42 percent of attendees stop smoking, resulting in higher scores on overall health measures at their next checkup. If their mission was to improve health scores by decreasing the number of smokers, then this organization can clearly state this as their impact.

MSAA’s mission is to be a leading resource for the MS community and improve lives today. But how do we measure improvement? And how much improvement is enough? In the previous example, if the smoking-cessation classes improved health scores by 50 percent, this sounds great, but what if they only improved by 5 percent…is that enough? If 5 percent kept that person from having a heart attack, would it then be enough?

The improvement of a life is not easily shown on a graph or a financial statement. Sometimes we need to hear the stories that accompany the percentages and the ratios, the revenues, and expenses. The stories that remind us why we do what we do.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you – all of you, for helping me to live independently [through MSAA’s free equipment distribution program]. I put my shoes on by myself!! It has been years since I have done that! Thank you for the leg lifter. It lifted my spirits too!” -F from South Carolina

This is not to say that numbers do not matter. Last year, 1,040,554 people accessed our website for information – 814,776 of them for the first time. That’s a significant number of people who can have their spirits lifted and their lives improved.

MSAA has been able to improve these lives because of an increase in the number of generous donors who support us in this mission. We are incredibly thankful for this growing number of people who, through their vital contributions, experience the joy of creating an impact – and improving lives today!

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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