December Volunteer of the Month
Graeme Howard has long used his professional career to help local charitable causes. He was a past Director of the Montgomery County Big Sisters/Big Brothers and he is currently a director of The Audrey S. Knewstub Foundation. In every endeavor, his role at The Goldenberg Group helps advance the missions of worthy organizations. While Graeme takes all of these roles seriously, the ALS cause goes beyond that. For Graeme, ALS is very personal.
Ten years ago, Graeme knew nothing about ALS. In what feels like a common story, nobody in the family was very familiar with the disease. There was no family history and no close friends had been afflicted. Then his cousin, Peter Clark, was diagnosed and things changed.
The early years of Peter’s life with ALS were challenging, but that is not what Graeme most remembers now. Peter was four years younger than Graeme and lived with the disease for approximately five years in Houston, TX while Graeme himself lived and worked in the Philadelphia region. The two cousins remained close, even from a distance.
Peter explained the challenges of ALS to his cousin, but nothing could prepare Graeme for the realities of the disease. Graeme visited Peter in Houston and witnessed ALS up close and personal late in Peter’s struggle with the disease. At the time, Peter was using a respirator to breathe and needed help to stand. He couldn’t lift his head without assistance.
In addition to seeing how ALS had taken Peter’s strength and health, Graeme also saw reason for hope for the future. He took Peter and a caregiver to the park for a nice trip outside. While there, Peter’s breathing tube was cut and the caregiver had to improvise to fix it before too much damage was done. It was an urgent situation. As frightening as the moment was, Graeme saw the quick work of the caregiver and he understood the value of having high level personal care for a person with ALS at all times.
Graeme also developed a lot of respect and admiration for the caregiving and advocacy of Peter’s mother, who was, of course, also Graeme’s aunt. He saw what it meant to be a family caregiver and he was determined to give back however he could so that he could honor that work.
Fortunately, Graeme’s aunt had befriended Greater Philadelphia Chapter President Ellyn Phillips during her ALS advocacy. She told Graeme that he should connect with the Chapter and he did without any hesitation. When he called, Ellyn said “The Phillies Phestival is our biggest event of the year, can you help get ads for the ad book?”
She didn’t have to ask twice. Graeme used the motivation from his personal connection to ALS to solicit ads from local companies. When his cousin passed away, Graeme only became more motivated to help ALS families. He pledged to try to double his Phestival fundraising every year and has been a driving force in making the Phestival program book a success.
The Phestival was Graeme’s introduction to The Greater Philadelphia Chapter, but Graeme continued to look for more opportunities to help. His friends like playing golf, and Graeme decided to host small golf fundraisers in the area and in other parts of the country he visits to raise more funds for the Chapter.
Graeme is also a frequent supporter of the Annual Luncheon event and he looks for more ways to promote the Chapter and the ALS cause amongst his colleagues. Now people know him as someone very involved with ALS and they come to him to discuss their own personal ALS battles. When a close friend’s wife was diagnosed, Graeme was able to provide some comfort and hope as well as encouragement. His goal is to do all that he can whenever and wherever possible.
When Graeme first heard of The ALS Association, he thought it was all research. He very much approves of research funding, but knowing how much goes directly to patient care energizes him to do more. Peter’s battle showed Graeme the value and necessity of quality caregiving. Now it’s Graeme’s job to let the world learn the same lesson so that all people with ALS and their caregivers get the support they need. The Greater Philadelphia Chapter is truly grateful for all of his volunteer efforts.