The present Upstate New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was founded by a small group of people with multiple sclerosis in Rochester, New York. Howard Benjamin and Roman Speegle, both of whom had multiple sclerosis, determined that an association for people with MS might be a good idea. Mr. Benjamin called his friend Al Sigl, a radio personality in Rochester, who made an appeal for names of people with MS and their families. The response to the broadcast was excellent. Groups of people with MS and their families met informally for several years until 1951 when Rochester Area Multiple Sclerosis (RAMS) was founded. Since then, the chapter's mission has been "We mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS."
In 1952, RAMS became an official chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and in 1955 the chapter petitioned for admission into the Council of Social Agencies and participation in the former Rochester Community Chest (now the United Way). From a handful of members in 1952, the organization grew to 630 members by 1955.
In 1968, RAMS opened a new office at the Al Sigl Center and the chapter provided service to more than 700 persons with MS. About this time, a New York State Article 28 diagnostic and treatment center was established to provide neurological care for people with MS. Social programs and respite care programs for families we enhanced. In 1976, the chapter developed a survey to assess the needs of people with MS. Outreach workers began to serve people in Wayne, Livingston and Ontario counties.
In 1991, the existing MS Clinic merged with the Neuroimmunology Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital to form the Rochester MS Clinic. This affiliation, between RAMS and the University of Rochester Medical Center (Strong Memorial Hospital) is a partnership that enhances both the NMSS and clinical facility's ability to reach people with MS in a given geographic area. The Chapter maintains a similar relationship with the MS Clinic at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and the MS Clinic at the Center for the Disabled in Albany.
Supported by research completed in 1990, the Chapter moved to develop a long-term care program, medical day health program in partnership with Park Ridge Health System (now Unity Health System). The Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Center (MSAC) opened in 1993. This program was designed to bring medical, clinical and social services to people severely disabled by MS, and offer respite for families and caregivers.
In 1996, RAMS opened Howitt House, a collaborative program with the Epilepsy Association of Greater Rochester (EAGR) and the Al Sigl Center. This program features seven accessible, low-income apartments. Here a community of tenants with multiple sclerosis lives independently near neighborhood stores, services, parks and medical facilities.
In 1998, Rochester Area Multiple Sclerosis joined with the Upstate New York Chapter (Syracuse) and South Central New York Chapter (Binghamton) to form the new Upstate New York Chapter, serving nearly 4,000 people with MS and their families in 25 counties. In February 2002, a further expansion, as the Upstate New York Chapter has joined with the Northeastern New York Chapter (Albany) to provide programs of excellence to more than 2,400 more people with MS, their families, and communities in 17 additional counties.
In 2006, the Upstate New York Chapter joined with the Western New York Chapter's New York counties.
Currently, the Upstate New York Chapter is nationally recognized as a leader in providing comprehensive service programs for nearly 12,000 people with MS and their families in 50 counties and we continue to remain dedicated to our mission of mobilizing people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.