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(Photo courtesy: ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter)

`Long Enough:’ Grieving Over Late Mom with ALS, Daughter Decides to Pay-It-Forward, Support ALS Association

San Diego CA— Jennifer Baker of San Diego admits she was initially reluctant to get involved with supporting the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter. That’s because it would be a reminder of losing her mom, Jean Baker, to ALS.

Jean was 77 when she passed in 2011 from ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure, cause or life-prolonging treatments for ALS. Life expectancy for a person with ALS is within two to five years of diagnosis of initial symptoms.

Danny Kim and Jennifer Baker (Photo courtesy: ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter)

“During the nearly three years while Mom struggled with ALS, it was one of the most difficult times in my life,” said Baker. “But, the local ALS Association in Chicago, where I lived at the time, as well as the Grand Rapids, Michigan chapter near my mom, was incredibly helpful and supportive with resources and information on how to make the most of the time with your loved one and what to expect next. After moving to San Diego following her passing, I knew about the local ALS chapter but hesitated because I was still grieving and healing.”

Then, Baker’s employer in San Diego, Kitchell CEM, a construction, engineering and professional services firm, hosted a community volunteer day in honor of founder Sam Kitchell. Employees are encouraged to spend time helping local nonprofits. In exchange, nonprofits receive a donation of $25 per hour volunteered per employee. Supervisors asked employees to suggest worthy charities and Baker, a program manager with Kitchell, recommended the ALS Association.

“It had been long enough, and I was ready to get involved,” said Baker, who has more than 25 years of experience in project and construction management. “Kitchell encourages its employee-owners to give back to the communities where we live, work and play. Our passion for service is fostered by a philosophy of caring, doing what is right and helping where we can.

“So, we stuffed goody bags for people participating in a fundraising walk called Walk to Defeat ALS. It was a great experience for me and several fellow employees. Afterwards, a Kitchell supervisor encouraged us to form our own walk team, which we did.”

Kithell’s walk team 12 employees was recently recognized by the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter as one of the top, first-time teams to participate in its most recent Walk to Defeat ALS, which was held in the fall as a virtual event.

Walk to Defeat ALS. Jennifer Baker, Ed Dajani, Danny Kim (Photo courtesy: ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter)

Roughly 2,000 supporters participated virtually while maintaining physical distance and still raising money for a cure. Hundreds of walk teams chose their own three-mile routes, which included neighborhoods, parks, beaches, mountains and even treadmills. Baker and her Kitchell colleagues, wearing masks and maintaining COVID-19 protocols, walked the sidewalks near Kitchell’s Kearny Mesa office during their lunch hour.

Team Kitchell raised more than $4,300 in donations which also included matching funds from the Kitchell Foundation. ALS officials said donations will benefit research, care services, resources and programs for people and families living with ALS. Overall, the walk generated $300,000 in donations, which was the event’s fundraising goal, according to Steve Becvar, executive director, ALS Association Greater San Diego chapter.

“I miss my mom every day, but I am grateful that I was encouraged by Kitchell to move ahead and look forward to the future,” Baker said. “It makes you feel good to help and pay-it-forward.”

The ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter recently began registration for its 2021 Walk to Defeat ALS, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 17, at De Anza Cove in Mission Bay. It will be the nonprofit’s 21st annual fundraising walk. For event details, visit www.alsasd.org.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain and the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in people living with ALS weakens muscles and impacts physical function. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which usually leads to total paralysis.

The Greater San Diego Chapter, chartered in February 2013, is one of 39 chapters nationwide. The San Diego chapter works closely with the ALS San Diego Clinic at the University of California San Diego, which has been certified as a Center of Excellence by the national ALS organization. At its San Diego offices, the local chapter also showcases an ALS bedroom and bathroom that is equipped with features and benefits that would be helpful to people with ALS. For more information about the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter, visit www.alsasd.org.

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