COLUMBIA — Motivation and dedication are common words of praise spoken on behalf of the new local National Multiple Sclerosis Society office.
Chester Jakubowicz of Columbia used these words repeatedly in describing the people working for the office, a part of the Gateway Area Chapter of the society. For the past 20 years, Jakubowicz has been a caregiver for his partner, David Sapp, who is living with MS.
“Every time I have ever met anyone who works with the MS Society, they seem very nice, very dedicated,” Jakubowicz said. “I’m just glad they have (an office) here.”
Although the Columbia office is new to the community (its grand opening celebration was Saturday), the Gateway Area Chapter has been serving central Missouri for more than 50 years.
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling, disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms vary but can include numbness of the limbs, loss of vision and paralysis. The exact cause of MS is still unknown, though research shows it might be an autoimmune disease.
About the MS Society
The Gateway Area Chapter estimates it serves about 1,000 people living with MS in a 32-county area of central Missouri, stretching from the Iowa boarder down to Arkansas. Before the Columbia office opened, people in that area had to travel to the home office in St. Louis or the offices in Cape Girardeau or Shiloh, Ill., to receive assistance.
“We really see the need for people to be able to get to us, to be accessible to them,” said Stephanie Walgamott, senior manager of community development for the Gateway Area Chapter.
Funding for the MS Society comes from a variety of sources, including the United Way and pharmaceutical companies. Fundraisers, including the annual Bike MS event, generate a large portion of the money needed to support the programs and services provided.
The new office will provide a wide range of services and activities for people living with MS, their families and caregivers in the community:
- Talk MS groups: A place for people living with MS to meet, share stories and discuss solutions. Groups will be hosted in Columbia, Fulton, Jefferson City, New London and West Plains.
- New Connections: For people who have been diagnosed with MS within the past five years or have just moved to the area, this group offers a chance to share knowledge and make friendships.
- Family Evening: A program for people living with MS and their families to meet others in the community who share their situation.
- Jumpstart Your Relationship: For people living with MS and their spouses/partners, this is a couples workshop for those living with the challenges of MS.
- Research MS: An MS specialist discusses new therapies, medicines and other treatments on the MS research front.
- Care management: Provides support services necessary to help people living with MS and their caregivers maintain the highest level of independence possible and cope with challenges.
- Financial assistance: This program offers guidance, leverage and resources to help contain the financial impact of MS.
- Weekly Tai Chi and yoga classes taught by instructors trained in adaptive poses will be offered at the Columbia office.
- Aquatics exercise programs are available in Columbia, Jefferson City and Mexico, Mo.
- A therapeutic horsemanship open house will be held Oct. 9 at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center in Columbia.
- The Columbia office will serve as a base for advocacy activities in Jefferson City. These activities include visiting state and federal legislators to advocate for changes that would benefit people living with MS and others with disabilities and chronic illness.
- Fundraisers are a large part of what keeps the National MS Society and its local chapters running. Bike MS, which drew 3,300 cyclists last year, will take place Sept. 11 to 12 at the Boone County Fairgrounds.
The grand opening of the Columbia location consisted of several events over the past week, culminating in a public celebration Saturday.
Although temperatures soared into the 90s, about 20 cyclists participated in a 40-mile Bike MS training ride. At the September event, cyclists can chose among courses covering 40, 75 or 100 miles.
Leonard and Quinetta Rutledge of Jefferson City took refuge in the air-conditioned office during the celebration. The Rutledges have attended several programs put on by the National MS Society and said they were interested in checking out the new location, now much closer to their home.
Quinetta Rudledge, who was diagnosed with MS in 1987, said she enjoys the social aspect of the programs and events. It helps her to keep an optimistic attitude, something she said you need to have when living with MS.
“You can always look around and see someone that’s worse off than you,” she said. “I just get up in the morning and say, ‘Good morning, Lord. We’re going to do the best we can with this day.’”
Cathy Hicks, a community development manager who will be working out of the Columbia office, said she is excited about the prospects of the chapter’s newest location.
“I really think we’ll be able to reach more people,” she said. “We know there are more people with MS out there who haven’t been assisted by us yet, and we’re here for them.”
Based on prevalence levels of the disease, Hicks estimates there are a lot more people living with MS in central Missouri than what the office has on its client list.
“Hopefully by being more available in the community those individuals will feel comfortable and reach out for assistance,” she said.