January 2018 Volunteer of the Month

John Oswald


The Chapter is proud to recognize John Oswald as its January 2018 Volunteer of the Month.  John is a senior assurance associate in Ernst & Young's Financial Services Office (FSO), focusing on wealth and asset management clients. But, what makes John so special goes beyond his job description.  He is a young, dedicated, and compassionate volunteer who is always ready to help ALS families. His story, which he authored, gives us a complete picture of why he richly deserves our VOTM honor. We hope it inspires others, and especially other young people, to volunteer their time and talents to positively help those we serve.

“My first memory of ALS was about 15 years ago, while watching the movie The Pride of the Yankees, the story of the life and career of Lou Gehrig. I recall asking my mom, Regina Strain, about the disease that took the life and the name of this Yankee great. One clear memory sticks out in my mind. My mom, whose extensive nursing career had given her a great deal of medical knowledge responded, ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease is a horrible illness that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.” After that conversation, I didn’t think much more of the devastating disease that six years later would enter our lives.

In early 2009, my mom mentioned that her leg was in pain when we were walking, but I never dwelled on it.  After months of trying to pinpoint exactly what was wrong, she gathered us and calmly told my siblings, Billy and Lisa, and me, ‘I’ve been diagnosed with ALS.’ We could not believe the news, as ALS does not run in our family. However, as research shows, military veterans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS.
Yes, my mom was a proud veteran.

She served in the United States Army and was stationed in West Point, NY. After reaching the rank of Captain, my mother was honorably discharged and moved to the Philadelphia area. She was a labor and delivery nurse at Frankford Hospital (Aria – Jefferson Health, Frankford Campus), Abington Memorial Hospital (Abington -Jefferson Health), and Jeanes Hospital. She then coordinated labor and delivery staff at Temple University Hospital. Mom loved her work and continued as a nurse for more than 20 years. She would often work late and schedule extra hours in an effort to provide for my 2 siblings and me who were always her primary focus.
The hardest part of the disease was witnessing its debilitating impact on the most independent and strongest person in my life. Suddenly, the person who was able to take care of her family needed her family to take care of her. She quickly moved from walker to wheelchair and the impact of ALS left a profound sense of helplessness and sadness. 

My mother’s battle with ALS ended on March 2, 2014. At the time I was a junior at St. Joseph’s University. Almost a year later, in February of 2015, I made a commitment to turn my sadness into giving back to the Chapter, which had helped our family.  I went online to the Chapter’s website and filled out the “Volunteer Interest Form.” I was immediately welcomed into the ALS community and my first assignment: volunteering for the Hot Chocolate event at the Adventure Aquarium.

When I arrived at the Aquarium, any nerves of volunteering for the first time in a new environment were quickly eased when I met the staff of The ALS Association. They were extremely warm and welcoming and became great friends.  At every event, I meet more wonderful volunteers and staff who confirm that the organization is being led by kind and genuine people.

Since Hot Chocolate I have participated in many other events. I was introduced to the tremendous work of Len Lodish and his wife, Susan, who each year ride their tandem bike, raising much needed funds for the Chapter. I’ve assisted with assembling the mailings to past donors and others to increase donations. This year, I will use my accounting experience to create easier to use reporting systems for this ride.
I have also helped with these events in different capacities and encourage others to join me:

• Phillies Phestival Program Book
• Greater Philadelphia Walk to Defeat ALS ®
• Patient and Family Holiday Party 
• 40th Anniversary Gala
• Caregivers Day

Since becoming a volunteer with the ALS Association, I am more aware of the amazing work the organization does for those living with ALS, their caregivers and family. When my mother was diagnosed, my family formed a team for the annual Walk to Defeat ALS® at Citizens Bank Park.  Today, I’ve been able to experience even more of the events such as the annual Caregivers Day which gives families affected by ALS a much-needed day of education and relaxation. This is my favorite event because I understand firsthand the stress that can come from this disease.  Not only are stress-relieving activities offered, but the Association teaches classes on new and better ways to care for people affected with ALS.

I especially encourage younger folks to volunteer. Many were my age when my mother was diagnosed. When you are young, it is natural to want to separate your life from this incapacitating disease and pretend it doesn’t exist. However, since volunteering I have been connected with others whose lives have been impacted by ALS and it’s a comforting feeling.

After losing my mother to ALS, volunteering allows me to give back directly in her honor. And, my girlfriend Angel, is also a constant volunteer. It is my hope that we can make a difference in someone’s life.  I know my mom would be very proud to hear that we are volunteering with the ALS Association and even prouder to hear I was named the Volunteer of the Month.”

With my thanks,

John Oswald  


The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.