Little waves of icy water swept the country this summer and both Wrentham and Norfolk were part of the viral experience. The concept was simple. Friends would challenge each other on social media to take a bucket of ice water and pour it over their heads in an effort to bring awareness to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Then the newly chilled and wet person would challenge more people and on and on it went. Quickly, the Ice Bucket Challenge to strike out ALS became the biggest trend of the summer.
While the ice bucket phenomenon started with Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player and Massachusetts native with ALS, many locals made adjustments to the challenge and did it honor of people close to them. The entire Wrentham Youth Baseball and Softball Association took the challenge and dedicated it to Tim Gemelli, a beloved Wrentham resident diagnosed with the disease in 2013. The Wrentham Holly Club also took the ice bucket challenge in honor of Gemelli and donated to The Tim Gemelli Fund, a charity setup to help his family and him face the challenges that come with the brutal disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
For Wrentham's Jim Killion the challenge struck home and he was happy to participate. "I've known a few people that have been stricken with this disease and it's just awful how it breaks down a person so slowly over time," he says. "I don't think we can do enough to raise funds for a cure."
Local politicians including State Senator Richard Ross and local town officials including Wrentham selectman Joe Botaish, Charlie Kennedy, and many others have also taken the challenge.
Norfolk resident and State Representative Shawn Dooley took the challenge twice, once on his own and a second time with the Norfolk Fire Department and also made a donation. “It is amazing how much we are connected on social media and it is wonderful that it is being used for such a great cause,” Dooley says.
Dooley believes the Ice Bucket Challenge not only raises awareness but provides support and comfort to those facing the disease. “I got an email from a family friend who I didn't know had been recently diagnosed with ALS thanking me for helping to spread the word. And that the Ice Bucket Challenge has helped him by knowing that so many people care about finding a cure,” Dooley says. “It really gave me an entirely different perspective- knowing that others are thinking of you, praying for you, doing something silly for you - actually helps and comforts those who are suffering. An added benefit above the money and the awareness.”
Others that took the challenge include both St. Mary's former pastor, Fr. Chip Hines, and current pastor, William Schmidt, as well as local business owners like James Arsenault of James’ Breakfast and More and Charlie and Kim Fruci and Fran and Cindy Sebio. The Fruci and Sebio challenge was done together and used not your average bucket but rather the bucket of a front loader to dump galloons of ice and water on both couples. “The kids loved doing that to us,” said Cindy Sebio.
What’s the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge? The ALS Association announced that as of Sunday, August 17 the organization received $13.3 million in donations compared to $1.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 17). These donations have come from existing donors and 259,505 new donors to The Association. But the awareness of the disease is at an all-time high and that type of exposure is hard to quantify. "We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. “While the monetary donations are absolutely incredible, the visibility that this disease is getting as a result of the challenge is truly invaluable. People who have never before heard of ALS are now engaged in the fight to find treatments and a cure for ALS."
The local impact has been of value too. According to Tim McDevitt, one of the organizers helping raise funds for the Tim Gemelli Family fund, donations have increased thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge. “Not only has the National ALS association seen a dramatic increase in fundraising efforts, the Tim Gemelli Family Fund has also seen donations pour in,” McDevitt says. “Over the last week, nearly $3k has been donated-with nearly all directly related as a result of the #icebucketchallenge. To date, nearly $52k has been donated through the Tim Gemelli Family Fund You Caring website.”
If you’d like to make a donation visit the Tim Gemelli Family fundraising web page.
Click the Ice Bucket Challenge Photo Album to see more locals participating.