MS Bridge Across America Unites Communities, Raises Awareness
Paul and Marilyn Weintraub used their son Alan’s MS diagnosis and their love of contract bridge as an opportunity to unite groups who might otherwise never meet. Appropriately, their nationwide fundraiser is called MS Bridge Across America.
In duplicate bridge tournaments — the variety the Weintraubs favor — two players join forces for the entire event, earning points that they share. Entering a charity event sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League provides an opportunity to earn extra master points — a measurement of bridge skill. When they held their first fundraiser in Philadelphia in 2004, the Weintraubs had to figure out how much they could charge players for the chance at the extra points.
“When you go to play duplicate bridge, it costs seven, eight, nine dollars, depending on how much food they give you. If they have a charity game, if you win on that day, you might get one point instead of half a point,” Marilyn said. “The first year we wanted them to pay three dollars extra. The bridge people were up in arms.”
They decided to ramp up the MS part of their message.
“People said to us at the time, ‘What is MS?’ They didn’t know. So we made sure that part of what we were going to do was inform people what MS is.” They discovered that, in a typical bridge tournament of 100 or 150 players, eight or 10 will have a connection with MS — but may be reluctant to talk about it. So they opened up about Alan's occasional cognitive problems and depression.
“We’re always coming up with interesting ways to raise money,” Marilyn said. Some are fun, like a wine tasting; some are intellectually challenging.
“Right after the Virginia Tech shootings, we had a top forensic psychiatrist come and speak about what is a criminal mind. The people loved it. We didn’t charge enough money,” she said.
Their top-earning event event so far was a $59-a-head guest lecture, luncheon and tournament with bridge expert Audrey Grant. “We were sold out. It was totally crowded. You couldn’t even get in the room,” Marilyn said. All funds the Weintraubs raise are earmarked for research.
In addition to getting more bridge clubs to join Bridge Across America, the Weintraubs want to promote the game as a way of boosting social connections and cognitive functioning in people with disabilities.
"It's games that bring people together," Marilyn said. "We made most our friends from playing bridge or tennis." Bridge can be played online as well as in person nowadays, making it perfect for people with mobility issues, Marilyn said.
“In comparison with the bike rides and everything else, we’re minuscule,” she said. “But we know we have spread the word about what MS is."