Gushes, gasps and grins as District 39 staff take ALS Bucket Challenge

The sun was bright, the grass was green, most of the T-shirts got wet and the squeals were piercing: the administrative staff of Wilmette School District 39 had just poured ice-cold water over their heads, collectively joining ALS Ice Bucket Challenge nation.

“It’s colder than I expected,” gasped Curriculum Coordinator Katie Lee, as she dropped her bucket and sprinted towel-ward. But she couldn’t help grinning.

Gasps, grins, giggles and grasping for towels were all part of the fun Aug. 26 when staff members joined District Superintendent Ray Lechner on the Mikaelian Education Center lawn to take part in the bucket challenge.

The challenge, if you’ve been hiding under a rock or a, well, bucket, is a stunt that’s become a viral Internet juggernaut this summer. Thousands of people have filmed themselves pouring freezing water or ice-cubes over their own heads; they’ve posted the results, and challenged others to do the same, to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the devastating muscle neuron disease more commonly known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The bucket challenge has also turned into a charitable cornucopia for research, service and advocacy groups fighting the fatal disease, which is thus far incurable. The most recent estimates put the Bucket Challenge’s take at well over $70 million across the globe.

Here in the Chicago area, the premier ALS organization is the Les Turner ALS Foundation. The 37-year-old Skokie-based group funds world-renowned and ground-breaking ALS research through partnerships with Northwestern Hospital, and provides health and advocacy services for more than 400 ALS patients every year.

And the ice bucket challenge has been an amazing force for good for those people and their loved ones, Foundation Executive Director Wendy Abrams says.

“The thrust we’re seeing, the phenomenon of the challenge, has provided tremendous excitement and pleasure for our patients and their families,” Abrams said Aug. 27. “So many people just don’t know about ALS, and now through this, we’re finally at the top of chain!”

Abrams said that, while some challenge takers and video viewers might not realize what the Bucket Challenge’s mission is, more people do take the time to learn about the disease.

The challenge has also proved financially rewarding, she said.

Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 24 of 2013, the Les Turner ALS Foundation raised $78,800. This year, powered by the Bucket Challenge, it has raised nearly $540,000.

“The care and the research that can provide is immense,” she said.

Back in District 39, Lechner explained that his staff was challenged by teachers and administrators at the district’s Highcrest Middle School and Wilmette Junior High School. In turn, the Mikaelian staff challenged their counterparts at nearby New Trier High School.

The challenge was more than a high-spirited day of fun for a good cause, district communications director Holly Goldin said; it was done in memory of Myra Berliant, a former district employee who died of ALS.

“Her children went through district schools, and her son is an English teacher at New Trier High School,” Goldin said.

In passing the baton to high school employees, District 39’s administrators raised $290 to fight the disease that took Berliant.

People interested in donating to the fight against ALS can learn more at the Les Turner ALS Foundation web site, at www.lesturnerals.org.

BUCKET BRIGADE

WHAT: Ice Bucket Challenge

WHO: Wilmette District 39 administrators

BENEFITS: Fight against ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease

LEARN, DONATE: www.lesturnerals.org

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