Letter carriers deliver much more than the mail — they deliver the precious gift of hope to tens of thousands of families affected by neuromuscular diseases.
Founded in 1889 by a group of Milwaukee letter carriers who wanted “to develop a national voice for letter carriers around the country,” the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) became one of MDA’s first national sponsors in 1952 under the leadership of then President William Doherty.
It was Doherty’s admiration of MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis and the fact that several NALC members had children with muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting diseases that led to his decision to make the newly formed health organization NALC’s official charity.
“The resolve was made in the 1950s [by Doherty] to stay with MDA until a cure is found, and every president since that time has made the same commitment, including our current president, William Young,” said NALC Executive Vice President Jim Williams. “Letter carriers are pretty determined people, and we’re not going to back off until this disease is whipped.”
Young is an MDA national vice president.
Hard-working men and women in blue
One year later, thousands of letter carriers volunteered to complete their routes a second time during a designated week, collecting donations for MDA. Known as the porch light brigade, the event was NALC’s first nationally coordinated MDA campaign.
It collected nearly $4 million.
Over the next 50 years, NALC has supported MDA through golf tournaments, bowling events, walk-a-thons, bingo nights, roadblock canister drives, pancake breakfasts and other creative fundraising events. The union, based in Washington, D.C., has remained devoted to MDA, raising some $52 million to benefit “Jerry’s kids.”
|NALC President William Young|
“Through the years I’ve been involved in a lot of fundraising for MDA, and these kids are just remarkable,” said Williams, who’s serving his fourth term as NALC’s executive vice president. “I think the reason we keep the commitment is because letter carriers are in every city, in every town in the country, and we see these kids with their families. You see what the need is, you see the courage that they show in the face of tremendous adversity, and it gets to your heart and you just can’t lose that.
“Once you’ve experienced this, dealing with the family and what they go through, you never forget it. It’s a life-changing event.”
NALC members also help out at MDA summer camp, whether it’s by volunteering as camp counselors or holding cookouts for the campers.
Jack Schmidt, who recently stepped down from his position as Wisconsin State MDA Coordinator for Milwaukee Branch 2, continues to participate in MDA summer camp cookouts and fundraising events.
“Some people are even willing to take a day off work to come down and support the cookout,” said Schmidt, a retired letter carrier who’s been with NALC for 30 years.
Each Labor Day weekend, MDA gratefully recognizes these efforts by inviting letter carriers from top fundraising NALC branches to appear on the national broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
Williams and branch representatives presented checks for $1.8 million to Telethon star Lewis on the 2005 Telethon.
The union is working to find ways of increasing its contribution to MDA, Williams said.
“I have a great respect for letter carriers,” Lewis said. “As one of MDA’s largest sponsors, the NALC has proved its commitment to MDA and the search for treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases.”
Let's get together
NALC’s 65th biennial National Convention, held in Las Vegas in August, drew more than 8,000 delegates from NALC branches nationwide and their families.
At the convention’s general session, MDA Director of Program Development Tom Boyle and NALC’s MDA Coordinator Halline Overby made a presentation highlighting the relationship between MDA and the NALC.
A video recalled the life of Wisconsin’s “letter carrier buddy,” Grant Nailen, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy and was the grandson of NALC’s National Auxiliary President Lynn Jester. Jester, of West Allis, Wis., who became president of the NALCA in 1997, presented the Grant Nailen Award to the top three MDA fundraising auxiliaries. (See “Remembering Grant” below).
The session concluded with an appeal by MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Luke Christie of Due West, S.C.
Grant Nailen lost his battle with Duchenne MD on Feb. 23 at age 17. The Wauwatosa, Wis., youngster was an inspiration to letter carriers across the country.
In 1994, Grant was chosen to be the Milwaukee branch’s unofficial MDA goodwill ambassador, a role in which he attended state NALC conventions and thanked letter carriers for supporting MDA.
“Grant put a face on the disease and helped us raise a tremendous amount of money for MDA. We knew somebody that needed the help, and we knew that what we did was going to be good for them,” said Schmidt, who worked closely with the youngster. “Grant was a friend to all the carriers in Wisconsin. We called him our ‘letter carrier buddy,’ although he became a good friend through the years.”
A lover of Harry Potter books and a sports enthusiast, Grant was a young man of many interests who enjoyed watching The Weather Channel and dreamed of being a meteorologist.
Grant was the MDA Southeastern Wisconsin Goodwill Ambassador in 1996. His favorite activity was MDA summer camp.