National Volunteer Week is quickly approaching, and one rapidly growing and very active Bay Area group is bringing young people together in the name of community service.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Young Leaders Network, or MSYLN, is a San Francisco-based group of young professionals raising awareness about MS. The group fundraises throughout the Bay Area, and it currently has a laundry list of events and activities planned, including an outdoor yoga class, a Kentucky Derby Pub Night, and teams participating in multiple MS Walks. While the group’s events tend to be fun and social, President Penny Desatnik says there is always a strong focus on raising awareness of the disease.
“At our events, we explore options to engage and educate attendees on issues related to MS, as well as to their personal and professional lives,” says Desatnik. “Our number one goal is to provide support and to raise awareness and much needed funds to move toward a world free of MS.”
The MSYLN formed in 2014 under the Northern California chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In just two years the group has grown from three original members to about 40 today—all young, working people with a connection to multiple sclerosis.
“In our experience, we saw that a lot of the events and opportunities at the chapter level were more geared toward older people,” says Desatnik. “Our group is for the 20- and 30-somethings who want to connect with people in similar situations and with similar goals.”
According to the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis can hit any age but typically affects people between the ages of 20 and 50—34 being the average age of diagnosis. Chapin Cole, the MSYLN Co-Education Chair, was diagnosed at 25 and says the support within the group is invaluable. “There are a lot of people who are between 20 and 30 who are just getting diagnosed and that’s an important time for them to feel that sense of community,” she says.
While several MSYLN members are living with multiple sclerosis, others have been impacted through friends and relatives living with the disease. Kevin Delmore is a real estate agent from San Francisco whose mother was diagnosed years before he was born. Although growing up with a parent who has MS isn’t always easy, Delmore says it was all he knew. “I think it's one of those cases where you don’t know any different. It’s just always hard to see anyone you love going through something difficult. I don’t know if that’s unique to MS or just unique to having a parent with health issues.”
Delmore has been an active volunteer for many years. In college he interned with the National MS Society, and has volunteered or participated in numerous MS Society events, including Bike MS and DustBuster. This kind of commitment to volunteerism is not unusual among the MSYLN members. Like, Delmore, Chapin Cole is passionate about service, so much so that she’s made a career out of supporting charitable organizations. She holds a master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration and serves as the Associate Director of Individual Giving at California Shakespeare Theater. Although her involvement with the MSYLN and the MS Society is not her day job, Cole says she volunteers because she’s thankful for the support it gives her.
“It really has given me a new outlook on life and allowed me to frame my life in a way that I can know I can live a full life with MS,” she says. “That is the reason I pour so much time and energy into the MS Society, because I’m so grateful to it.”
The MSYLN has hosted numerous fundraising events aimed at young adults, including trivia nights at bars and, most recently, a paint night at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The group will also be participating in the San Francisco Wal MS event on April 24th. To learn more about MSYLN’s fundraising events and members, check out the group’s Facebook page