Campers, staff, and volunteers pose in matching orange MDA Summer Camp T-shirts

Celebration and Gratitude for the Year of the Volunteer

headshot of a woman with long light brown hair in a black sleeveless top

Wendi Dressen, Senior Director of MDA Volunteer Programs

As 2023 draws to a close, we look back on the many opportunities that we have had to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate MDA volunteers. When Donald Wood, Ph.D., the President and CEO of MDA, declared 2023 as The Year of the Volunteer, it provided a special opportunity which allowed us to direct our attention toward the incredible individuals who form the backbone of MDA – our devoted volunteers. For over seven decades, these remarkable individuals have remained at the forefront of our organization’s legacy, and their unwavering dedication continues to inspire us.

“Designating 2023 as The Year of the Volunteer has not only provided a focal point, but also enabled us to revitalize our communication and engagement with our volunteers,” Wendi Dressen, MDA’s Senior Director of Volunteer Programs, says. “It has empowered us to refine our data systems, ensuring that our interactions with volunteers are more meaningful and effective. Furthermore, it has given us a platform to share the heartwarming stories of our extraordinary volunteers and their deep-seated motivations for generously donating their time to MDA.”

As we welcomed back a multitude of MDA in-person events this year, events that promote the power of connection and provide meaningful interactions and support to our community, the value of MDA volunteers was increasingly evident. These events would not be possible without the generous dedication of their time, talents, and energy. At MDA, the significant impact that volunteers have across the many programs, fundraising initiatives, and community events is impressive – and immeasurable.

The value and power of volunteerism

The unprecedented progress in MDA-supported research for new treatments, the direct impact on those we serve, and the general pursuit of our mission would not be possible without the time and service of our volunteers. Even the smallest endeavors create an incredible and lasting impact on our community.

A young woman in a wheelchair wearing glasses smiles while another young woman also wearing glasses leans towards her

Beth Gaertner poses with a camper at MDA Summer Camp.

“I want to say thank you to our volunteers for continuing to show up, to advocate, to fundraise, and to change lives,” says Beth Gaertner, a Recreation Program Team Specialist at MDA. “We could not do our jobs without them and there are never enough ways to express how beloved our volunteers are by our families and how appreciated they are by us.”

Sharing in that appreciation, we have had the opportunity this year to reflect on the incredible power that our volunteers have to make a difference in the lives of others – and an opportunity to recognize the immense value that volunteerism adds to the lives of those volunteering. In addition to benefiting those that we serve, volunteerism offers a slew of benefits to the volunteer. Volunteers gain a sense of purpose and community, meet new friends and learn valuable skills while making meaningful connections. Those connections and the personal experiences that our volunteers have had serving MDA have often significantly influenced the trajectory of their lives.

Careers, love, and lasting connections

While everyone has their own unique, personal reasons why they volunteer for MDA, all of our volunteers share one overarching, motivating factor: a passion to serve others and to empower those living with neuromuscular disease. For many, that passion and their time spent volunteering with MDA has inspired their career choices, guiding them to pursue careers in medicine, physical therapy, research, and non-profit programs that serve our community. In fact, a multitude of MDA employees found their calling first serving in a volunteer role.

A group shot of MDA staff and volunteers at MDA Summer Camp gather around a dining hall table

Megan Elliott (third from the right, back row) and her team of staff and volunteers at MDA Summer Camp.

“Helping campers at MDA Summer Camp gain independence, friendships, and memories that last a lifetime is such a privilege. And watching volunteers gain their own life-changing experiences and potentially shape their own future careers, is an honor,” says Megan Elliott, who started with MDA as a volunteer and is now employed as a Recreation Programs Specialist. “I work with an incredible team in Recreation Programs. And when we see our camper families at camp pick up day with campers who can’t wait to tell their parents/guardians all about their new friends and the new activities they tried, it fills my heart. I am so proud to be part of a team that creates those moments for others.

As we honor our volunteers this year, sharing their personal stories and career accomplishments, we also celebrate the personal love stories of volunteers who met their partners while volunteering for MDA. Couples shared their admiration for their partners’ desire to serve others, how their time spent volunteering led them to the loves of their lives, and the incredible connection and foundation that volunteering together has provided in their relationships.

A young couple smiles at a restaurant booth

Brigitte and Andy McAllister’s first photo as a couple, after their second summer volunteering at MDA Summer Camp in 2012.

“It shows that we both value helping people and giving back,” Brigitte McAllister says of meeting her husband, Andy, volunteering at MDA Summer Camp. “What better place to meet your spouse than volunteering for an incredible cause?”

Celebrating the Year of the Volunteer

Reflections and personal stories throughout the Year of the Volunteer have painted a vivid picture of the impact that volunteering has on MDA and our programs, on volunteers themselves, and on the families that we serve. The lasting connections that volunteers have made with campers at MDA Summer Camp and individuals and families at community events are impossible to quantify in value. This year, and every year, we are incredibly thankful for the joy and hope that our volunteers bring to the families that we serve.

Although the Year of the Volunteer will soon be ending and making way for a new year, we will continue to celebrate, honor, and cherish our valuable volunteers with a sincere gratitude for the many ways in which they have made – and continue to make – the world a more beautiful place.



Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.