MT. VERNON – About 80 people took part in Saturday's Walk MS event at Veterans Park, raising $39,013 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
But the annual walk is not just about raising money. It's also meant to foster a support system for area residents struggling with MS so they realize they are not alone.
“It raises awareness for people who have it,” said Christopher Barton of Centralia, who was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago and participated in Saturday's walk. “For people just diagnosed with it, it's a good thing to do to come and meet other people and see how they deal with the disease.”
Walk MS generates funds for the Gateway Area Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This chapter covers 90 counties in Southern Illinois and central Missouri.
The fundraising goal for Saturday's walk was $42,000. However, fundraising will continue until Oct. 15 so there is still a chance for organizers to reach their goal.
Money raised goes toward programs and services that help those with MS. This can include financial assistance programs, as well as research efforts, said Amy Thomas, senior community development manager for the Society's Gateway Area Chapter.
Among other things, the funding helps support several MS specialty centers in St. Louis, which are researching new MS medications, Thomas said.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that disrupts the flow of information in the body's central nervous system. It damages the myelin around nerves and can lead to blindness and paralysis.
“There's some really cool, cutting-edge research that's working on repairing the myelin,” Thomas said.
The MS walk itself is a non-competitive event where participants walk around the park for as long they wish. Walkers raise money through pledges they collect or they make donations themselves.
Roughly 80 people took part in Saturday's walk, but over 100 registered.
Friends Erica Mays of Bonnie and Cristy Morton of Kell both walked in Saturday's event. They have a mutual friend with MS and were eager to show their support.
“It's important that people learn about MS, because before I knew someone that was diagnosed with it, I really didn't know much about it,” Morton said.
Mays, who also has a sister-in-law with the disease, said Walk MS is an effective way to educate the public.
“All the ones we've been to have had great turnouts and have done really well,” Mays said.
Denise Gaither, coordinator of the local Walk MS, said she wants people to realize MS is a devastating disease and that many people live with it. Even so, she is optimistic about the fight against MS.
“I'm hopeful for a cure,” said Gaither, who has MS.
For more information or to donate, visit www.gatewayMSwalk.org.