MSAA’s Fourth Annual Improving Lives Benefit

As MS Awareness Month came to a close at the end of last week, MSAA held its fourth annual Improving Lives Benefit on March 30th in Philadelphia, PA.  This event allowed all of us at MSAA to celebrate MSAA champions who embody our mission of Improving Lives Today in the multiple sclerosis community throughout the United States.

This year, we were extremely proud to honor Shana Stern (an MSAA Art Showcase Artist), her son, Walker Reynolds (a Swim for MS volunteer), and William Saunders (MSAA Board of Directors’ Treasurer).

Attendees got to hear from Walker about his desire to raise money for a cause that would directly benefit and support people like his mother Shana, who was diagnosed with MS in 1999.  We also had an opportunity to hear from Shana about her process of expressing her creativity and love of music and performance through her newfound passion of painting with her knuckles.  Finally, William Saunders spoke about his time serving as a member of the MSAA Board of Directors and as a representative of the MS community as a true gift.

In addition to celebrating the work of our MSAA champions, we were also able to raise more than $120,000, which will make a tremendous difference in the lives of numerous individuals and families with MS.

This year’s event would not have been successful without the support of our attendees, supporters, and our sponsors.  Thank you to everyone who contributed and we look forward to another beautiful evening next year!

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I Am Free in the Water

By Simone Sanders

I was an unusually tall child. I stood at almost five feet tall by the age of six. So, naturally, my family began to speculate about my future athletic potential. My grandfather, who was an avid swimmer, decided that my lanky, thin frame would best be suited for swimming. And so my lessons began at seven years old. I remember I felt two things the very first time that I jumped into the pool: cold and free.

On land, I was quite awkward. Being much taller than the other kids left me at the end of the line most of the time. My feet and hands were too big to swap shoes and winter gloves with the other girls in the class and adults always seemed to notice my height first. But the very features that made me awkward on land made me graceful in the water. My big feet helped me swim faster than the other kids. My hands helped me pull water behind my body more efficiently and my height made me superior in a race to the finish line. In the water, I was a winner.

Fast forward twenty years and I still feel like a winner when I swim. Living with multiple sclerosis on land is rough. I walk slowly. My hands and feet are numb and tingling. My vision is blurred from optic neuritis. I am tired all of the time and my brain is sometimes in a fog. But I am free in the water. I don’t have to drag my body because my limbs are light. My hands and feet are both cold so the numbness and tingling stops. My blurred vision doesn’t matter because there is nothing to see in front of me but the finish line. And if I am tired, I float. In the pool I am not disabled. When I am swimming, I am enough.

In a race against MS, I win.

 

*If you are interested in learning more about using your own passion for swimming to help the MS community, please visit SwimForMS.org.

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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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MSAA’s 2017 Improving Lives Benefit

The folks here at MSAA are getting ready for this year’s Improving Lives Benefit, where supporters from across the country join us for the night to celebrate the accomplishments of MSAA champions in the MS community.

This year, our honorees are:

  • Shana Stern (MSAA Art Showcase Artist) – Diagnosed with MS in 1999, Shana has adapted her style of painting and creating art, as new symptoms and challenges presented themselves.  She has been an active participant in our Art Showcase since 2013.
  • Walker Reynolds (Swim for MS Volunteer) – Inspired by his mother Shana Stern’s determination and creative spirit, Walker wanted to give back to the MS community and did so by raising more than $1,800 for MSAA as a Swim for MS Volunteer participant.
  • William Saunders (MSAA Board of Directors’ Treasurer & Founder of Meeteetse Advisors) – Having served as the MSAA Board of Directors’ Treasurer for 8 years, William has been instrumental in helping the organization improve more lives in the MS community by supporting MSAA’s mission.

MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit will be held on Thursday, March 30, 2017 in Philadelphia, PA at The Downtown Club.  If you are interested in attending, learn more at support.mymsaa.org/benefit.

While not everyone is able to make it to Philadelphia to help us honor these MSAA champions, anyone can participate in our national online auction.  Information on auction packages, which include a variety of starting bids, is available here.

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Special Swim for MS Swimmer Honored by the Military

Almost all of our Swim for MS participants have had some kind of personal connection to multiple sclerosis – whether a family member was diagnosed, a friend, or they themselves have MS.  In this way, Team DragonFLY Captain, Courtney Evers, is no different.  When her mother was diagnosed in 2005, Courtney and her family turned to MSAA for information about MS.  After spending years on our website using MSAA resources and repeatedly seeing information about our Swim for MS program, Courtney decided to start her own.  “It was something I could not only do for my Mom, but that she could be a part of, too,” says Courtney.

Courtney’s mother (left) swam the most distance of the team last year!

Courtney’s mother (left) swam the greatest distance of the team last year!

What does make Courtney Evers different from other Swim participants is that she was recently awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for her volunteering efforts, including her years as the captain of her Swim for MS events.  Since 2011, Courtney and her teams have raised more than $7,500 for the MS community by swimming in New York, Hawaii, and everywhere in between.  When asked about receiving this special honor, Courtney said:

“The Swim for MS part of my MOVSM was by far the most meaningful, because it was something that really ‘hit home’.  Not only was my team helping raise awareness, but the funds raised were actually going to those that needed it with MS.”

Please join MSAA in thanking Courtney for her service to her country and for her commitment to the MS Community and improving lives today!

unnamedTo learn more about starting your own Swim for MS, please visit SwimforMS.org.

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Stories to Inspire

11-Year-Old Walker Reynolds Swims for His Mom and Others with MS

Shana Walker

Shana Stern and Walker Reynolds

“I have a child who has had to see his mother in pain, stuck in bed, on medications – because of my MS,” explains Shana Stern of Austin, Texas. “And because of this, my child is incredibly empathetic and compassionate.”

Shana, who was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and recently featured in MSAA’s Art Showcase, is proudly referring to her 11-year-old son Walker Reynolds who embarked on a remarkable and inspiring quest this summer. Walker is using his love of swimming to help raise money to improve the lives of those living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

By participating in MSAA’s Swim for MS fundraiser, Walker has set an ambitious goal of swimming one minute for every dollar donated this summer up to $1,600. Plus, at the end of the summer on his 12th birthday, he will do a cannonball for every dollar donated over his goal.

Serving as MSAA’s national signature fundraiser, Swim for MS encourages participants to set a swimming-related challenge, such as swimming laps over a set time or distance while recruiting friends and family to donate to MSAA in support of their goals. Swim for MS is any pool, any time – how volunteers choose to participate is completely up to them.

“I think Swim for MS is a cool way for kids to be world participants – and actually begin    to make a difference in the world and to the lives of many people,” Walker says of the fundraiser. “When I saw that for $600 I raise, a person with MS who can’t afford a wheelchair could be given one. That really motivated me.”

In addition to swimming, Walker loves art, like his mother, and enjoyed seeing her painting in MSAA’s Art Showcase. “When my mon’s vision got to too bad for her to keep writing, she began to paint. And because she kept dropping brushes, she created her own method of painting, using only her fingers. People in Austin really liked what she does and started buying her pieces. Her painting and art is what keeps her going on bad    days because she can just lose herself in the paints and colors. It was great to see it on your website!”

While Walker continues to hit the water and swim his daily laps, Shana has been actively promoting his amazing Swim for MS challenge to family, friends, and the general   community through emails and social media posts. As one could imagine, Shana’s admiration for her son is immeasurable.

“I am so extremely proud of Walker for trying to do something to help others in the world, especially at his age.  I’m grateful to him for constantly being my inspiration to fight through whatever difficulties I face that day. He gives me reason to keep living.”

MSAA certainly echoes these wonderful and well deserving praises of Walker and his dedication and compassion to help others in need. We greatly appreciate his efforts and encourage anyone interested in helping Walker meet or exceed his goal to please visit his Swim page at: http://support.mymsaa.org/goto/WalkerReynolds .

Stories to Inspire is a regular feature in My MSAA Today, our bi-monthly eNewsletter. Sign up to receive email updates from MSAA to have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox!

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Stories to Inspire: MS Client Swims for MS and More

By Peter Damiri

“I actually hugged my doctor when I found out I had MS,” explained Simone Sanders, 29, of Seaside, California. “After having so many symptoms for so long, I was relieved they found out what was wrong with me and that something could be done to help. But then, I was also frustrated that I had a chronic illness that had no cure.”

Simone struggled with a myriad of unexplained medical issues since her early 20s. Following the onset of several severe exacerbations, she underwent MRI testing and received the official diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

“I lost my vision, couldn’t walk, and lost my job,” recalled Simone. “I couldn’t drive or go anywhere, wasn’t active, and became very depressed. But I found support from MSAA as well as talking with others who have MS. They pulled me out of my depression and helped me realize that I can accept my diagnosis of MS but do not have to be crippled by it.”

Now married to an Airman First Class in the United States Airforce and looking to start a family, Simone has since regained the majority of her vision and ability to walk, but still struggles with daily fatigue and a variety of periodic MS symptoms. However, rather than focusing on the negative, Simone maintains a powerful fighting spirit as she strives to improve her physical and emotional wellbeing through diet, exercise and a deep, personal commitment to help others with MS.

“I try to be as active as I can, running 5K charity races with my cooling vest from MSAA – which has been a lifesaver. I’m always looking for new ways to help the MS community and was happy to find Swim for MS,” said Simone.

“I had a passion for swimming ever since I was eight-years-old and was really good at it. After my diagnosis, it made sense to go back to swimming and exercising in the water, especially when I had access to a pool. Then when I heard about Swim for MS I said, this really fits with my interests and passion and it’s for a good cause for people like me.”

With the goals of swimming 1,000 laps in three months and raising $1,000 for MSAA, Simone began her Swim for MS challenge in late March. She bases her ambitious goal on her average swim of 10 laps per day, but also recognizes this can fluctuate due to her struggles with fatigue and other MS factors.

“Some days are really bad days and even some weeks are bad, but when I’m in the pool I know that I can push myself to do my best,” said Simone. “The coolness of the water helps keep me from being overheated and I can float to rest when needed.”

Recognizing the benefits she receives from her cool suit, Simone would like to dedicate donations from her Swim for MS fundraiser to help support MSAA’s Cooling Program as well as other vital services. She recently enlisted the support of her mother to help recruit donations from family members and plans to promote her Swim challenge to her new military family as well.

“Even though my goal is to swim 1,000 laps, I feel accomplished no matter how many I finish because in spite of everything I’ve been through, I’m still able to swim,” Simone said. “I tell myself every day to have courage and have faith. Have the courage to get up in the morning and have the faith to get through the day, and do the best you can.”

MSAA would like to thank Simone for granting us this interview, choosing to support the MS community through Swim for MS, and inspiring all of us to stay positive and keep fighting every day. To visit Simone’s webpage and support her Swim for MS challenge, please visit: http://support.mymsaa.org/goto/simoneswim. For more information on aquatic exercise and MS or how to start your own Swim for MS fundraiser, please access www.SwimForMS.org.

Simone Sanders - Copy

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A Day On, Not a Day Off.

Is not this, then, a century worth living in – a day worth serving? And though toil, hard, heavy toil, be the price of life, shall we not, young men and women, gladly work and sacrifice and serve…?” – W.E.B. Dubois, 1898

On Monday, January 18th our nation will once again pause to remember the great Dr. Martin Luther King, a leader and activist most noted for his role in advancing the civil rights movement. This day gives us the opportunity to reflect on his legacy of service and explore what service means to us in this current age.

MLK Day 2016MLK Day is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service, and celebrated as “a day on, not a day off.” 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 18th, we encourage you to help improve lives today for the multiple sclerosis community as your act of service.

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.

Need some ideas of how you can be of service to 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.

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CANNONBALLLLL!!!

Cajun Cannonballs - FB 2Swim for MS participant Joshua Piro and the Cajun Cannonballs have done a fundraiser every Fourth of July to raise awareness of MS and funds for MSAA’s programs and services. This year, MSAA invites you to join the fun and get cannonballing this holiday weekend in support of the MS community. So grab your friends and family and Cannonball for MS! Submit your pictures by using #SwimForMS on social media and you could win some cool Swim for MS gear. Please visit SwimForMS.org/Support to register today.

Even if you’re not a fan of the water, there is still a way you can get involved and help improve lives today with MSAA. We’re looking for enthusiastic, passionate people like you to join our Street Squad!  Street Squad members work to spread the word about the Swim for MS fundraiser and raise awareness for MS.

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Splash for Multiple Sclerosis on Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, MSAA invites you to join our team and help us make the BIGGEST splash yet! Whether you’re a swim enthusiast or just enjoy the water, there are numerous ways you can participate and be a part of MSAA’s Splash for MS Memorial Day Team.

Here’s how YOU can participate:

  1. Register on MSAA’s Splash for MS Memorial Day Team today and get your Swim for MS swag to show off while you’re having fun in the sun.
  2. Make a donation to the event! Click here to make a donation toward our goal.
  3. Already registered to Swim for MS? Email us at swim@mymsaa.org and we’ll add you to MSAA’s Splash for MS Memorial Day Team.
  4. Tweet, Instagram, or Post a picture of you and your friends and family making a splash on Memorial Day! We will be posting pictures of team members showing their support for the MS community all across the country so don’t forget to check out MSAA on all your favorite social media platforms! #SwimForMS #MemorialDaySplash
  5. Don’t have a pool? No problem! Get in on the fun at your nearest beach, river, or even your backyard Slip ‘N Slide! Take a dive, swim laps, dip your toes in the water, or just float your way through Memorial Day.
  6. Any Pool, Any Time, Any Way you Swim for MS helps Improve Lives Today!
  7. The first 10 people to register by May 15th will receive a very cool Swim for MS carry-all cooler chair!

The great thing about this event is that you can choose how you’d like to participate – swim laps, makes some waves in the ocean, or run through the sprinklers with the kids! Click here to register today!

 

Don’t forget that Swim for MS is a year-round fundraiser. Even if you can’t participate this month, any time is the right time to dive into action to show your support for the MS community. Any pool, any time – the choice is yours!

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