Gwendolyn Strong was born perfectly healthy in October 2007. But, at 6-months-old, her health took a bad turn, and she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type I. SMA is much like Lou Gehrig’s disease, but is only found in babies. According to WebMD, SMA is characterized by a loss of nerve cells called motor neutrons that leads to muscle weakness and atrophy. Gwendolyn’s doctors told her parents to “take her home and love her,” and while they certainly planned to do that, they wanted to do more. So, Bill and Victoria Strong started The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation (GSF), “ Doing nothing was not an option, so that’s why we started the foundation, to raise awareness for SMA and to raise funding to make sure money was not a hindrance to research,” Bill said.
Since the foundation’s inception, the Strongs have found many creative ways to spread the word and raise money. Many of GSF’s initiatives have a social media spin. In an effort to reach Congressional leaders, they established PetitionToCureSMA.com in July 2008, and have received more than 80,000 signatures thus far. GSF also urges their Twitter followers to Tweet for a Cure, and even does the work for them. By simply plugging in your zip code and clicking Tweet, you can contact your representatives with an important message about SMA. Last summer, Bill, Victoria and Gwendolyn traveled from California to Mississippi to introduce Gwendolyn to her 104-year-old great-grandfather. With the help of more than 450 supporters, their Sponsor-A-Mile campaign raised more than $44,000.
Recently, GSF was voted as one of the Top 100 Nonprofits (out of more than 500,000 organizations) as part of Chase’s Community Giving campaign on Facebook. As a finalist, GSF was given $25,000 in grant money, all of which has already gone towards SMA research at the University of California-Irvine. They are now eligible to win a $1 million grand prize grant. Voting takes place on Facebook from January 15-22. If they win, GSF plans to use this grant money to empower the SMA community, by giving those affected by the disease and their families a say in how the money will be distributed across promising programs. Visit Facebook to give GSF your vote, follow them on Twitter, and check out their website to find out more about the amazing work they do.