Everyday Heroes are National MS Society volunteers who regularly go above and beyond to benefit the MS movement. An Everyday Hero is an ordinary person who does extraordinary things to help those affected by MS. We can't say thank you enough to these amazing people! Meet our Everyday Heroes …
The Sioux Falls Bike MS Committee ensures the success of Bike MS: Sanford Health Pedal the Plains. Heidi Carda, Michael Christensen, Jamie Gerdes, Brett Ketchem, Amanda Mensing, and Lori Waldner guide the logistics, safety and recruitment. All six are vital to the planning and execution of the event. Each year, 100 volunteers are needed and more than 300 bike participants ride; however, the impact on the community goes far beyond the direct impact of this event. As the committee seeks new volunteers, sponsors, and in-kind donations, they spread the word about what MS is and what the National MS Society does. We are grateful for their hard work and dedication!
“I got an email about youth camp and I have been a camp guy for a while so I jumped on it. I got connected and just started doing more things as they became available,” said Mark.
Mark has chaperoned Teen Crew on Challenge Walk and currently helps with the 20s and 30s Programing Committee. He has also participated in Challenge Walk, Bike MS and mud events. This year he plans to participate in Bike MS: TRAM Ride with a group of other friends he met through volunteering.
“Find anything that you are even the least bit interested in and just do it. It will lead to other things and you will quickly find your niche,” Mark said.
Emily Britt of Iowa City, Iowa, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010. She got involved with the National MS Society by participating in her first Walk MS last year. Emily explained that she was inspired by all the people taking time to organize and come together for one cause. She is now a Walk Ambassador and MS group leader in Iowa City.
Emily said, “I have always seen myself as a people-connector, so it seems fitting that in this disease that seeks to destroy connections, we find ways to connect people. Ways include things as small as finding enjoyable sources of entertainment, or being sure that people are connected by receiving the care they deserve in the medical community, or being a source of support in their personal lives!”
Jennifer Olson of Wolverton, Minn., has been a dedicated volunteer in the Fargo-Moorhead area for eight years. Jennifer started a newly diagnosed support group in Fargo, served on the Walk MS committee for one year, has hosted rest stops for Bike MS, and is a Walk MS team captain. Most recently, Jennifer joined Upper Midwest Chapter staff and volunteers as an MS Activist at the Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., in March, 2013.
“I didn't choose to have this, but I can choose how I want to deal with it,” she said. “I choose to help others learn to accept the disease, help educate the community, friends and family, and help be the voice for those who choose not to be.”
In 2012, Annie Cone of Des Moines, Iowa, made a resolution to be more social. Upon learning there wasn’t a women’s MS group in the Des Moines area, she started what is now the Ladies Luncheon Support Group. They meet the second Tuesday of each month at various restaurants. Annie also has participated in Day at the Capitol for two years and hopes to participate in Bike MS this year, as well.
“I volunteer because it's my form of paying forward,” she said. “I’m able to speak for those who are not able. I can, so I will! If I can't, I hope you will be there for me!”
Amanda Mensing of Sioux Falls, S.D., is moving the MS mission forward in multiple ways. She is captain of her Walk MS team, the rest stop volunteer coordinator for Bike MS: Sanford Health Pedal the Plains, and has participated in local MS advocacy efforts.
“I feel that having multiple sclerosis puts me in a unique position because I can help support other people who have MS, and educate those who don't know much about it. My personal story has also helped me succeed in fundraising and advocating for the MS Society,” Amanda said.
Amanda encourages people to volunteer any way they can. “Every little bit helps and is appreciated by people like me who know how the Society works to help all people living with MS.”
Blake Middleton is a wonderful asset to the Upper Midwest Chapter's Minneapolis office as an administrative support volunteer. In the last six months, Blake has assembled mailings, registered attendees for events, made hundreds of phone calls and more. Prior to that, Blake participated in numerous Walk MS events. Outside of volunteering, Blake enjoys his retirement, spending time with friends and family, particularly with his wife Joan and their dog, Fanny. Two of Blake’s four adult children live with MS. His daughter Lane works at the National MS Society regional office in Denver, Co., and his son, Blake Jr., is a successful event fundraiser for the Upper Midwest Chapter with his own DIY sailing event, MS Cup.
When asked of his favorite memory volunteering, Blake replied, “Realizing that there are a great many really talented and dedicated people working every day to bring an end to MS.”
Brynn Stanton Anderson stands out as a leader in her role as chair of the On the Move: Little Black Dress Committee in Iowa. She coordinates meetings, secures auction items, procures event sponsors, recruits guests and gets her whole family involved. Brynn has a close relative living with MS, which inspired her to help three years ago.
Brynn puts in many hours to ensure the event is beautiful, successful and runs smoothly. When asked to describe her favorite aspect of volunteering, Brynn said, “I love getting to reach out to the community. When you ask for auction items, people get confused about MS, and you get to be a guiding hand to show them what it is and how they can be more involved.”
Mary Culver was first connected to the National MS Society through a group for artists living with MS. For the past two years, she’s volunteered as a mentor in the MS Person-to-Person program, which is designed to foster one-on-one connections among people with MS. She said of her MS Person-to-Person relationship with Lynn Plank: “We laugh a lot. I think that’s very healing.”
Mary also shared that while she and Lynn have fun together, they also have days when they seriously discuss some of the issues that MS brings. Mary said, "I treasure our relationship and look forward to talking to her, emailing and visiting her in person." Mary is also a traveler and has taken her scooter to Yosemite, Milwaukee and the North Shore of Minnesota. In addition, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, crafting and participating in an MS aquatics class.
Kathy Hanson is a longtime special events and Minneapolis office volunteer. Between putting together first aid kits, helping with mailings and volunteering at a rest stop for all five days of Bike MS: TRAM, the Upper Midwest Chapter keeps her pretty busy. Kathy also volunteers for Walk MS and the annual MS 150.
Most importantly, Kathy’s a connector and believes in sharing her Society volunteer experiences with her friends and family. She said: “I believe introducing others, whether a friend or family member, to volunteering is important to the survival of organizations with a mission to help others.”
Rita Preston has been a National MS Society volunteer for more than 18 years. Diagnosed with MS in 1990, Rita said she began volunteering to spread the word about MS and help others understand the disease. While Rita has been involved in every part of the organization ― from organizing a new Walk MS event to helping out in the Des Moines office ― she currently leads an MS group that meets via conference call. Rita shared: “By helping others, I help myself. I look forward to a world free from MS!”
Ruth Nelson, a National MS Society volunteer for five years, helps make Bike MS: Sanford Health Ride the Wind possible. She got involved with the Society in memory of her brother, who had MS, and in honor of her niece, who lives with MS. A group of her coworkers participates in the ride as well, as she volunteers to support them. Said Ruth, "I look forward to each year working with the great group of volunteers and riders."
A National MS Society volunteer team for four years, Kelly and Jonas Sandquist are devoted to the success of Walk MS, Challenge Walk MS: Twin Cities and MuckRuckus MS Twin Cities. Kelly said, "We've been embraced by Society staff, other volunteers and those affected by MS and feel blessed to be a part of this great cause."
They said their children enjoy the events also, and their favorite memory is the "wading pool" inside the VIP tent at Walk MS: Twin Cities in 2012. (There was a severe storm the evening before.) Said Kelly, "[It's a] great organization. All the staff are dedicated, wonderful and caring peole. It's so rewarding."
Holly and Geoff Kuchera have captured National MS Society events on camera for the past seven years. This dedicated volunteer duo always comes as a package deal: two photographers for the price of one (although they donate their time and talent entirely). The Kucheras’ favorite events to photograph include Challenge Walk MS: Twin Cities and Bike MS: C.H. Robinson Worldwide MS 150 Ride ―mostly because of the people involved, they said. The husband and wife team also shared: “Over the years we’ve obtained some really great friends we get to see once or twice a year!”
The first event they photographed was MS Day at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. They said, "Based on what we did that day, we’re surprised the Society asked us back to shoot the next Walk MS. At the time, people photos really weren’t 'our thing.'" People are certainly their thing now! When asked about their involvement with the Society, they said, "It’s nice to be able to look back over the years and see how much both of us have grown as photographers and as human beings."
National MS Society volunteer Steve Seltz brightens the day of so many staff. (The man knows how to tell a joke!) Steve has been working in the Minneapolis office on a daily basis to do all kinds of projects for the Society. Steve was a nursing assistant for 25 years, where he made it his mission to not just provide care but be a friend to his patients. Steve grew up near Lake Harriet and has lived most of his life in Richfield, Minn. In his spare time, he enjoys performances by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We're lucky to have him on our team!
When the Society was asked to be part of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Disability Advisory Council, Susan volunteered to be our voice. This council works on civic engagement and voting issues in the disability committee. Susan has been a leader in our chapter’s voter engagement efforts leading up to the fall elections.
Beth Swanson is a Sioux Falls, S.D., area volunteer. She previously volunteered for the On the Move Little Black Dress Committee and now serves on the Walk MS South Dakota Committee. Beth works for ADP in audit and compliance, where she puts her MBA to good use. She grew up in Nebraska and moved to Sioux Falls nine years ago. When Beth isn’t rooting for the Green Bay Packers, she likes to read and hang out with her friends. Being from Nebraska also means she’s a big Nebraska Cornhusker fan as well. In addition to volunteering and raising money for Walk MS, Beth also participates in the event. As a committee member, she contacts businesses to sponsor a booth at the vendor expo for Walk MS. Without great volunteers like Beth, Walk MS wouldn’t be nearly as successful.
Des Moines area volunteer Deb Olesen has worked in quality control for 22 years at ACH Food Companies, which is the world’s largest state-of-the-art production and distribution facility for spice products. She enjoys baking and cooking and is a food judge at the Iowa State Fair. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and two children, and of course, cycling. This extraordinary volunteer has served on the Bike MS Iowa Committee for the past five years. She has planned the route, recruited volunteers and generally gone above and beyond the call of duty. This year marks Deb’s sixth year biking for her family friend Dennis, who has MS. In fact, she’s so dedicated to the cause; she recently got a tattoo of a bike. Now that’s dedication!
Dennis Hanold, whose wife had MS, is a dedicated National MS Society volunteer in addition to being a 15-year Bike MS veteran. He not only participates as a rider, but also volunteers before and after Bike MS events by loading and unloading trucks, marking routes and helping with product pick-ups. Dennis is a member of the Bike Promo Team, helping to recruit new riders. In addition to Bike MS, he’s volunteered for Walk MS and the Twin Cities Mud Run.
A full-time interior designer, Shelly Richard was raised in northern Minnesota but has called Fargo, N.D., home since 1986. In 2001, she joined the movement to end MS by participating in Bike MS, Walk MS, Run to Stop MS and serving on the former North Central States Chapter Board of Trustees from July 2008 to October 2011. In part due to her great work with the National MS Society, Shelly was awarded the YWCA Women of the Year 2010 ―Volunteer Division Award.
In her spare time, Shelly likes to run, bike, play volleyball, read and spend time with family and friends. She even likes to plow snow in the winter. The following Elizabeth Andrew quote is a constant motivator for Shelly: "Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart."
Jennifer Dietzler began volunteering with the National MS Society by helping with registration at Walk MS, and she now coordinates volunteers for Walk MS: Hudson. She’s helped to photograph Bike MS, mud events and Walk MS, in addition to leading a Walk MS team, Martini Sippers to End MS, for the last five years. We are so grateful for Jennifer’s tireless efforts toward a world free of MS.
Jennifer explains, “Volunteering is lots of fun and a great way to connect with others affected by MS. There are so many ways to volunteer that you'll always be able to find an event perfect for you and your family to help with.”
Jennifer has a photography studio and particularly enjoys photographing newborns at her local hospital. She also teaches fitness classes. She credits her family as her greatest support system. Pictured with Jennifer are her husband and son, Joe and Zack Dietzler.
Sara Whitmer (pictured right) spends three days a week volunteering at the Upper Midwest Chapter Des Moines office. She’s been volunteering for the National MS Society for more than three years and currently volunteers as the office administrative assistant. She also procures auction items for Taste of Generosity, a wine-tasting event that will take place Feb. 18 in West Des Moines.
Prior to volunteering at the Society, Sara worked for 18 years as a health and welfare consultant in the Chicago area. While in Chicago, she became a Cubs and Bears fanatic. Her favorite Cubs baseball player was Ron Santo and her favorite Bear player of all time was Walter Payton. When Sara isn't volunteering, she’s reading a good book or driving her black convertible and dreams of one day owning a vintage 60s Mercedes convertible.
Michaela Janssen is a one-of-a-kind volunteer. In 2011, she was involved in multiple National MS Society programs and fundraising activities. She served as an advisory committee member for the chapter’s first-ever MS Service Day and as a committee member for our On the Move Luncheon. Michaela was also a camp counselor at MS Youth Camp and a mentor to MS Scholarship Program recipients.
She completed all of this volunteer work as she was finishing her final year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. While pursuing a career in grief and loss counseling, Michaela was also a leader with the Students Against MS group at St. Thomas. Her time commitment to the Society and her willingness to give make Michaela an amazing volunteer.
Ryan Bleau (pictured center) first connected with the National MS Society by participating in Youth Camp several years ago. Last year, he expanded his involvement and joined Teen Council, a group that helps plan and implement programs for young people affected by MS. He also participated in MS Day of Service and helped maintain and beautify the yard of a person living with MS. In addition, he became a counselor-in-training at Youth Camp 2011 to give back to a program that's meant a lot to him.
Most recently, Ryan participated in Teen Crew for Challenge Walk MS: Twin Cities. Every day, he loaded and unloaded luggage starting at 5:30 a.m., before most Challenge Walkers had their first cup of coffee! Despite the early hours, Ryan was an enthusiastic cheerleader and rest stop volunteer, even walking the last six miles of day two to support a walker who was slowed by an ankle injury! When asked if he was tired, Ryan replied “I’m good. It doesn’t really matter if I’m tired as long as I’m helping the walkers.&rdquo
Janet Nurnberg (pictured right), an energetic National MS Society volunteer, has been a member of the 20s and 30s Advisory Board since its inception. This past year, she launched an initiative to recruit volunteers from the 20s and 30s Crew to Society special events. Janet is also a youth counselor each year at MS Youth Camp and participates in Walk MS.
She’s dedicated, thoughtful and gracious in all she does to benefit the MS movement. Janet not only volunteers at just about every event, she also helps out in the office when she can. The commitment and leadership qualities she’s shown in her four years of volunteer work are truly remarkable.
John Schenk has participated in Bike MS: Star Tribune TRAM for 12 years, raising a lifetime total of more than $130,000 to end MS forever. John started riding TRAM because he loves to ride his bike. Now both the ride and his volunteer work mean a lot more to him, as he’s gotten to know staff, other TRAM riders and people living with MS.
John shared that volunteering has made a big impact on his life. He said, " [I'm] more passionate, a better listener, and I try to relate to people more. I really think it's helped me become a better person. I’m more friendly and less critical."
Every Friday (except when he travels to Florida to watch the Twins spring training), Mick Auger volunteers at the chapter front desk, answering hundreds of phone calls from people affected by MS — ensuring they get the information they need — and greeting staff, volunteers and visitors with a warm smile.
Diagnosed with MS in 1987, Mick also volunteers at a variety of programs and nearly all chapter special events. He’s also passionate about raising MS awareness in the community. Mick is well-known around the office for his kind personality, willingness to help out — even at the last minute — and for generously supporting chapter staff members participating in fundraising events.
When asked about why volunteering is important, Mick said, “Volunteering feels good to me … the National MS Society has been good to me.” He added that volunteering is a worthwhile experience and there’s always room for people’s talents at the chapter.
Diane Whitcraft does it all at the chapter office: covers the reception desk, works on special events projects, helps with the scholarship program, makes personal thank-you calls to Bike MS participants and MS Champions, and helps recruit new volunteers for chapter events. Diane has great ideas and tremendous insight. She is also valued because she always has a smile on her face and pays the highest attention to the detail and quality of her work. Diane walked for MS, and most recently, she joined the public relations advisory committee for the chapter.
Cindy Hirte-O'Neal (pictured left) grew up on the east side of St. Paul and now lives in St. Paul Park. She loves country music bands like Sugarland and the Zach Brown Band. If she were to do karaoke today, she would sing Shania Twain’s, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” Her current hobbies are knitting and crochet as well as spending time in Somerset on the Apple River. Cindy has three children and has been volunteering with the National MS Society for almost one year. Most of her volunteer work has been as a front desk helper Friday afternoons.