May is ALS Awareness Month. Every year, members of our Les Turner ALS family volunteer in our annual Tag Days Drive to spread the message of hope and help and raise funds to support people living with ALS and their families.
Since its inception in 1997, Bonny Gaffen, one of the Foundation’s founders and a board member, and Rick Mitchell have co-captained their Tag Days Drive together in Glenview. The two met one another over 40 years ago through one of the Foundation’s first-ever fundraisers: The Mammoth Music Mart.
Bonny’s brother-in-law, Les Turner, passed away from ALS in 1978 and Rick’s sister, Susan, passed away from ALS in 1997. The co-captains began their Tag Days Drive in honor of their loved one’s legacies, as well as those they know who are currently fighting the disease. “Individuals and their families that have gone or are going through ALS have a real desire, if their time allows, to help the cause and to do something. Even after they have lost their loved one, they don’t forget,” says Bonny.
Every April, Bonny and Rick send out letters to each of their friends, family and past volunteers to let them know it’s that time of the year again. “It’s an opportunity for them to help the cause,” says Rick, “and they really want to. They become a part of this family that keeps growing every year.”
Except for 2020, Bonny, Rick and their Tag Days volunteers have spent the past two decades dedicating the last weekend in May to filling the streets of Glenview with yellow smocks, big smiles and messages of hope. The co-captains have also partnered each year with several local businesses, such as Ace Hardware, Walgreens and Jewel, to allow volunteers to tag outside their doors.
While technically considered a “rare disease,” experts predict an individual’s lifetime risk of acquiring ALS is about 1 in 300. “Each year, we come across more and more people who stop and share their stories about a family member, friend or someone they know from their neighborhood that has or has had ALS,” says Bonny. “And it’s those special connections that really build more awareness, support and community.”
This year, Bonny and Rick’s Glenview Drive will be held both in-person and virtually. “We missed being out there last year and seeing everybody,” says Rick. But even if people are not there in person, he still feels their virtual support. “They’re helping share information and raising well-needed money,” says Rick. “That’s the most important thing.”
“The hope and awareness our Tag Days Drive volunteers bring- whether it’s out on the streets or virtually- is not only important in spreading that hope and awareness to other people,” says Bonny, “but in showing our loved ones that they have not been forgotten. That we’re not giving up.”
This ALS Awareness Month, we are launching our Take a Breath Campaign. To honor and recognize the resiliency of people with ALS, for whom breathing is a daily challenge, we invite you to raise awareness and funds during the month of May. You can partake in Tag Days, our annual awareness month fundraising drive, virtually or in-person, or in an activity or hobby of your choosing like biking, drawing or meditation to honor or remember your loved one with ALS.