'Shambassadors' inspire Shamrock programs to be the best they can be
In the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, all across the country, participating retailers sell green and gold clover-shaped MDA Shamrocks mobiles for $1 and $5.
The immensely popular Shamrocks fundraising program — which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year — has grown in income every single year, even during economic downturns, says Brian Hunter, MDA vice president of business development.
Hunter gives a lot of credit for this amazing success to volunteer “Shambassadors” who provide businesses with personalized support and encouragement.
The Shambassador program was a natural outgrowth of what MDA families and friends already were doing in their local communities, says Hunter.
Shambassadors help cashiers and managers to see beyond the little paper mobiles to the real people — friends and neighbors — that they are helping each time they sell a Shamrock.
When Shambassadors visit a Shamrocks site, they check to see if the cashier asks if they’d like to buy a Shamrock to support MDA.
If yes, the Shambassadors introduce themselves and thank the cashier for his or her support, sometimes playfully offering a “reward” of trinkets or candy. If the cashier doesn’t offer a Shamrock, Shambassadors briefly explain the importance of the program and encourage the cashier to be more proactive next time.
Shambassadors inspire employee enthusiasm and convey MDA’s gratitude and appreciation in many other ways as well, from speaking at employee meetings to dropping off a plate of home-baked cookies in the lunchroom.
While the dates vary from place to place, Shamrocks campaigns usually start the day after Valentine’s Day and run through March (or later in some areas). For Shambassadors, this means their commitment to the program is relatively brief, yet allows enough time to get to know merchants in their area on a personal basis.
Are you already an informal Shambassador? You are if you take a minute at the checkout to thank cashiers for selling Shamrocks for MDA. If you want to take on a more formal volunteer commitment, contact your local MDA office (800-572-1717) and ask how to get started.
The office may ask you to cover a particular geographical area, or the multiple sites of a single corporate sponsor. With a little effort, you can have a lot of fun and make a huge difference for families living with neuromuscular disease.
Want to know more? Check out the stories below from other MDA Shambassadors — individuals served by MDA, their parents and friends.
“I’m the third known generation of my family to have FSHD (facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy),” says Rod Fulmer of McDonough, Ga. “We use the MDA clinic, and enjoy and appreciate the support that the Atlanta MDA office provides. One of the fondest memories was after my dad passed away in 2005 and the MDA office called and sent cards of love and sympathy. I felt like it was time to do something and give back for the years of support.”
Fulmer, 55, has worked out a process for his Shambassador visits. Before visiting merchants he knows, he often calls ahead to make an appointment. But other times he may “just go in and maybe buy something and see if they asked me to buy a Shamrock. All of my visits include asking to speak to the managers to thank them and their teams for all their work.”
Fulmer also brings his secret weapon — his camera. “Let’s face it, most everyone likes to have their picture taken!”
His work as an MDA Shambassador is so appreciated by his local Lowe’s home improvement store that it has a picture of him and the two employees who spearhead the Shamrocks campaign mounted in the front of the store for everyone to see!
Andrea Lane is an active 17-year-old senior at Northern Guilford High School and has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. She lives with her parents Pamela and Chuck in Greensboro, N.C.
An accomplished musician, Lane plays percussion in her school’s Nighthawk marching band. Her specialty is the marimba (which is played on the sidelines). This year, she was one of only 11 musicians from her school named to the Guilford County All-County Band.
After spending four years as the local MDA Goodwill Ambassador in Greensboro, Lane has polished her skills for educating people about neuromuscular diseases. She works to personalize MDA and the Shamrock campaign by telling cashiers and managers her story and thanking them for their help.
“People are very appreciative when they hear my story,” she says.
Three years ago, when Suzanne Sullivan learned her son, RJ, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, she immediately became an MDA volunteer dedicated to finding a cure.
She started as a volunteer for the Shamrocks program, visiting corporate clients like Applebee’s. Then she started looking around and noticing where people got together. She soon had hair salons and other local businesses involved, like a recreation center that donates class fees for one day. Her secret for finding new businesses for MDA campaigns is as simple as it is successful.
“I try to go to people who already know someone.” By building new relationships on existing ones, she expands the number of people and businesses involved with the Shamrocks campaign.
Sullivan has helped open up an exciting new venue for Shamrocks in her area — schools. She now has four participating schools (three elementary, one junior high) and is working to bring in even more. Because a basic Shamrock costs only a dollar, this is a charitable event the schools can host without sending students door-to-door to raise money.
Sullivan credits Jackie Simcic-Becker, of the MDA Northeast Ohio office, with making these school campaigns possible. To promote Shamrocks, Simcic-Becker comes to the schools and holds pep rallies, relay races and other events to engage the students and teach them the importance of helping people who have neuromuscular disease.
At some schools there are raffles, contests and — best of all — prizes. Suzanne also creates customized prize baskets and sometimes gets donations of gift certificates from local restaurants and stores.
Now an 8-year-old third-grader at Saint Bernadette’s School in Westlake, Ohio, RJ gets a big kick out of seeing posters for the Shamrock program with his picture on them at Lowe’s and other businesses, and being part of the Shamrock program at his school.
Kiperman loves to talk with people about how MDA helps not just her, but people with many disorders.
She first learned she has myasthenia gravis in 1990 when she lived in New York. She pitched in on Telethon phone banks there for many years. When she moved to Florida in 2008, she decided to become even more involved as an MDA volunteer.
Kiperman, 49, brings the skills she’s built over a lifetime to her commitment to MDA. A talented artist and photographer, she takes photos at MDA fundraising activities and summer camp. An acrylic painting she did at camp, “Courage,” was shown on the Telethon in 2011.
She is heavily involved with her local Shamrocks campaign, sitting in on meetings, doing photography and helping to increase the fun. For example, during a recent photo shoot at Lowe’s, the staff really got into the Shamrocks spirit and hammed it up for her pictures.
“MDA’s research helps all,” is her mantra as she talks to people as a Shambassador. The research MDA does for neuromuscular disease today, she says, may one day help someone they love.
An elementary school classmate with a neuromuscular disease inspired Matthew Shield and Daniel Keenan, both age 17, to volunteer for MDA’s Shamrocks program. These juniors at Jesuit College Prep, a high school in Dallas, Texas, have been best friends since they were 5 years old, and it’s only natural that they would work together on this.
Last year, they visited local Valero stations, Kroger stores and Lowe’s. Along with thanking them, they gave store employees beads and other tokens supplied by the MDA office.
Sometimes the merchants have such amazing energy and dedication that even the Shambassadors are surprised, says Shield, remembering one Valero site where employees were asking if he wanted to buy a Shamrock before he even got to the checkout!
Says Shield, “The program is easy and a great way to give to MDA. Being a Shambassador shows stores your thanks. It really does make a difference!”