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Meet Liz Melvin of Les Turner ALS Foundation in Skokie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Melvin.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
An ALS diagnosis tends to hit like a ton of bricks, in part because it is a devastating, terminal illness and in part because so many patients and families are unfamiliar with ALS when they receive the news.

For me, ALS has been something I’ve been aware of for my entire life. The year I was born my father Monte Briner, was diagnosed with ALS. My parents and their friends dedicated their time, talents and resources to raising funds for ALS research and increasing awareness of the disease through an annual event, Miles for Monte. By the time my dad lost his battle to ALS in 1998, he’d helped raise $900,000 for the cause.His example inspired me to continue his fight.

After graduating from the University of Iowa, I accepted a position as special events manager for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. I learned about event planning, fundraising and budgeting, and found great satisfaction in making a difference to those in need. After two and a half years with the Foundation, I moved to Ohio to join my then boyfriend (now husband) and I worked for Cardinal Health. This position was an incredible opportunity for professional growth, but I was eager to return to the nonprofit world. A move back to Chicago in 2011 presented an opportunity to rejoin the Les Turner ALS Foundation staff, this time as the director of special events. In this role, I supervise several team members and manage the production of numerous events.

In 2016, these events grossed $2 million, close to two-thirds of the Foundation’s revenue.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’ve been fortunate in that my career path has been smooth. Fundraising, especially for a relatively rare disease, can be challenging, but the ALS community is supportive and generous. If forced to identify challenges, I’d say that much of our success is dependent upon the country’s economic climate and our ability to identify and interest new donors, all of which is out of our control.

Les Turner ALS Foundation – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
In 1976, when Chicago area resident Les Turner was diagnosed with ALS, there was a glaring lack of resources available to manage the devastating effects of his diagnosis. Les and his family and friends joined together to raise funds that would provide support to others affected by the disease and fund critical research into ALS. Forty years later, the Les Turner ALS Foundation is Chicagoland’s leader in research, patient services and education about ALS.

The Foundation is affiliated with Northwestern Medicine where it supports the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center, which brings together three laboratories and the Lois Insolia ALS Clinic under one umbrella.

Personally, I am most proud of the tangible impact we have on the ALS community. We work with the vast majority of people living with ALS and their families in the Chicagoland area, and we continually hear from them how important the Foundation is to their daily lives. Patient service programs administered by our office are provided at no cost, and we offer grants for certain needs, such as short-term respite care.In terms of the events I manage, it’s extremely rewarding to see the strength of those living with ALS and level of support for the ALS community.

For example, at this year’s Strike Out ALS 5K and 1 Mile Run/Walk/Roll at Guaranteed Rate Field, a patient registered for the 5K race. Before his ALS diagnosis, he was physically fit and had enjoyed decades of Taekwondo classes and competitions. He never considered himself a runner, though.

He was determined to make it to the start line and cross the finish, but first needed to figure out how to keep his arms at a 90 degree angle since ALS has weakened his upper body and left his arms limp. With help from his sister, a physical therapist and accomplished athlete, he designed a contraption that would serve this purpose and he trained for the race. Alongside his daughter, he lined up at the start and ultimately crossed the finish line. The experience was physically and mentally difficult, but his determination and strength carried him through. These are common personality traits among many of the patients I meet.

Also, at the ALS Walk for Life, more than 7,000 people on approximately 200 teams come together at Solider Field to honor loved ones affected by ALS. Some of the teams are 100+ people, and this year one team raised $75,000. Imagine being honored like that!

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
In the fundraising industry, success is defined by the bottom line. The work we do is literally life or death. Every dollar we raise or do not raise directly impacts the programs we fund and the wonderful and deserving patients we serve.

That being said, as an event planner, success is also about the experience you create for your guests. One of our signature events, the Hope Through Caring Gala, takes place every year in February. For most PALS, the opportunity to get dressed up and head downtown for a formal event with their spouse is just not possible. But, we want to make it not only possible for them, but also easy, enjoyable and memorable. We want them to feel beautiful and maybe even “normal” for a few hours. So, we offer complimentary tickets to all PALS and a caregiver, arrange transportation if needed, work with the hotel to provide any special type of accomodatation whether it be a private room for a g-tube feeding or requesting the kitchen precut their filet because they are simply unable to do so themselves.

Last year, we had a record number of PALS in attendance. One particular couple told me afterwards that this night meant everything to them. It was like a second wedding and an evening they will remember forever. So in addition to raising half a million dollars at the gala, providing those special moments to the people we serve defines success!

Contact Info:

  • Address: Les Turner ALS Foundation.
  • Website: www.lesturnerals.org
  • Phone: 8476793311
  • Email: events@lesturnerals.org
  • Instagram: Lesturnerals
  • Facebook: @lesturnerals
  • Twitter: @lesturnerals

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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