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Fresno State fraternity raises awareness about ALS

May is ALS Awareness Month, and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity members at Fresno State are doing more than just pouring buckets of ice water over their heads.

Phi Delta Theta member Michael Rosales set up a GoFundMe webpage designed to raise money for the fraternity’s stand against ALS.

Rosales said right now the goal is to raise $3,000 from the webpage, but also to eventually raise about $10,000 throughout the year by hosting other fundraising events.

“What we’re trying to do is help to continue that fight and be a voice for people with ALS, and hopefully, raise money to find a cure,” Rosales said.

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, said Asher Garfinkel, vice president of community outreach for the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association.  

People with ALS lose the ability to walk, speak, move, swallow and eventually breathe, and the ALS association is an organization that is committed to defeating the disease, Garfinkel said.

“We fund research to find the best treatments and hopefully a cure for ALS someday,” Garfinkel said. “We also provide professional care management and support groups for those with ALS throughout our service area.”

The Golden West Chapter advocates awareness for ALS and does community and outreach events in 31 counties throughout California and Hawaii, Garfinkel said.

He said ALS has probably been around for a long time, but the disease wasn’t put into the spotlight until the famous baseball player Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with it in 1939.

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Gehrig happened to be a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Columbia University, Garfinkel said.

All of the Phi Delta Theta fraternities in the country are national charity partners with the ALS Association.

“In solidarity and support and memory of their brother who fell to ALS, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity has rallied around the ALS Association, and they support us in a number of ways,” Garfinkel said. “They offer volunteer help at our community outreach events, and they fundraise for the Walk to Defeat ALS.”

Next year’s Phi Delta Theta president-elect Omar Benavides said that the fundraising webpage will lead up to a benefit concert that the fraternity will hold on campus in September.

Kyle Rackley, vice president of Phi Delta Theta, said the concert will consist of student performers and local bands.

Garfinkel said the fraternities help spread awareness and are ambassadors in the community for fighting the disease.

“We’re just doing our best to raise money to support research to find a cure so that this doesn’t happen to anyone,” Rackley said.

“[The money] goes beyond just research. It serves a multitude of purposes,” Benavides said.  “That’s why it’s so important for us to contribute to that.”

Garfinkel said there is currently no known cause or cure for ALS or any treatments except for one that extends the life of an ALS patient by only a few months.

“We are experiencing some wonderful breakthroughs in the research right now,” Garfinkel said.  “Breakthroughs in the area of gene mutations that are associated with ALS, stem cell research and the improvement of muscle functions so that most patients can improve and extend their lives.”

Benavides said it is important for the Greek communities on campus to give back and prove that they are not just stereotypes.

“Many people in the Greek system do unfathomable things to help benefit the community in ways we don’t see — in ways that often go under the media spotlight,” Benavides said.

Along with the GoFundMe page and the benefit concert, the annual Central Valley Walk to Defeat ALS will be held in October.

“It is only with volunteers like Phi Delta Theta that we can accomplish what we do,” Garfinkel said.