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2016 District Activist Leader of the Year and Advocacy Volunteer Hall of Fame Awardees Announced at Public Policy Conference

March 23, 2017

March 20, 2017 – Today, Carol Fulkerson was awarded the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 2016 District Activist Leader of the Year award and Rick Rovak was awarded the Advocacy Volunteer Hall of Fame award at the 2017 Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. 

Fulkerson of Bend, Ore., shared, “Being here in DC and engaging with our elected officials at the Public Policy Conference was an energizer for me, and inspired me to participate in a higher level of advocacy. I can honestly say that for every advocacy effort or project that I have been involved in, without the voices of advocates to raise awareness of issues and to stay on message then the requested changes, improvements, funding, or compliance with the ADA would NOT have occurred. The advocacy each of us engages in for improving the lives of people who live with MS will ultimately benefit a very large segment of the population. I hope the enthusiasm you experience at this conference and during our Hill visits will carry you forward to continue to engage in advocacy efforts, large or small, in your communities. There is so much to be done.”

Fulkerson first became interested in advocacy through experiences with her local MS support group in 1996.  She spent the next decade engaging her local, state and federal elected officials on a host of important issues, including:  compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Department of Justice-related matters ; the accessibility of popular area attractions and Bend Area Transit (Carol was lead plaintiff); accessible parking at the Bend hospital; and more. She collaborated with her State Representative to create legislation which required standards for accessible paths of travel to U.S. Postal Service approved cluster mailbox units. She worked with the U.S. Access Board to identify appropriate language and new accessibility standards were written and included in the Oregon Building Code, which passed unanimously through both chambers of the Oregon legislature, and adopted by all jurisdictions in the State. Carol’s outreach during the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act solidified her relationship with her local U.S. Representative Greg Walden—he even mentioned her on the U.S. House floor during debate. Carol regularly attends in-district and August recess visits with her elected officials.

After a 40 year career in sales, Rick Rovak of St. Louis, Mo., shared, “Now I’m selling something much more important.  Getting a sale in advocacy is ALWAYS important. We must find a way to yes….get the order. All of us depend on it. I got involved with the Society because I have two young adult daughters who are very healthy. I think everybody should enjoy the same break my family has. Advocating for NMSS helps me reach my potential while helping others reach theirs. When I think about advocacy, I think of what Rabbi Hillel said; “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am not for others, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Since 2011, Rovak has been a member of the Missouri Government Relations Advisory Committee (GRAC) and a dedicated MS activist. He helps engage other MS activists, attends State Action Days and Public Policy Conferences, and provides training for other activists before their meetings with legislators. In 2016, when Rovak became Chair of the GRAC, his talents and passion flourished. He testified in legislative committees, attended a meeting of the Missouri MS Task Force, represented the Society at a health advocacy conference and heightened MS awareness in Jefferson City, the state’s capital. He facilitated the in-person testimony of four MS activists on four different Society-supported bills in Jefferson City in 2016; three out of these four bills passed the Missouri legislature. Rovak’s increase of activist engagement created a heightened MS movement presence in the Capitol, which resulted in television interviews, new connections with other health advocacy organizations and recognition by legislative leadership. He has also been instrumental in previous legislative successes, including the creation of the Missouri MS Task Force and the passage of the Home Access Tax Credit. Rovak  is also a top fundraiser for Bike MS® in the Gateway area. 

Learn more about becoming an MS activist today.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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