by Melissa Brunner
Let's face it - when you think of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, you probably think of Jerry Lewis and "his" telethon. As he struggled with health problems over the years, I think most of us associated with the MDA Telethon have wondered what would happen when and if MDA ever lost Jerry. He has lessened his time on the telethon broadcast in recent years and we thought this year would be his final sendoff when, in May, it was announced he was retiring as host, but would make a final appearance to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Fast forward to Wednesday night and the news that Jerry not only is forgoing that final telethon appearance, but also is stepping down as MDA National Chairman. It is time for MDA to move forward with life after Jerry Lewis.
I submit to you that they can and will. Make no mistake - Jerry was a vital part of MDA's rise to prominence and the catalyst for raising more than a $1 billion over the past 50 years. His drive in bringing the telethon to a national audience and calling his friends in the entertainment industry to lend their names and talents was vital. The young people affected with neuromuscular disease became "Jerry's Kids" and, whatever you may feel about his motives, at the end of the day, I don't think you can question Jerry's heart.
But as Jerry sang every year, "You'll Never Walk Alone." He didn't walk alone in the endeavour, either. MDA was founded in 1950 by a group of adults with muscular dystrophy, parents of children with muscular dystrophy and a physician-scientist studying the disorder. Those children and families have been and always will be the soul that drives the organization. The doctors and researchers will continue to make amazing advances that are lengthening - and saving - lives. MDA staff and volunteers will continue to support all of those efforts. MDA is more than Jerry - it is all of these people. It is the Harley riders who take to the roads every summer with large checks in hand. It is the firefighters who volunteer their time to stand on the streets and ask for your dollars as you drive by. It is the dancers who move their arms and legs to help those whose arms and legs are weakened by neuromuscular disease. It is the camp counselors who let the kids experience things like swimming, horseback riding, even playing baseball, for the very first time. It is every one of you who calls into the telethon or buys a shamrock to show you care.
Yes, MDA owes a huge debt of gratitude to Jerry Lewis. But because of his work as MDA's number one volunteer, the organization has a strong foundation from which to move forward. Jerry's departure is a big news, but remember - MDA isn't about Jerry, it's about the children and families.