December 2013 Volunteer of the Month
It all started as a way to provide an educational experience for children in New Jersey. In the end, Carolyn Hohne would go on to not just provide a fun and educational event for school children, but to make a tremendous difference in the lives of people living with ALS.
In 2005, Carolyn was watching the Discovery Channel with her husband when she saw a program about “Punkin Chunkin.” If you’ve never heard of Punkin Chunkin, visit http://www.punkinchunkin.com/ to learn more. To say that people shoot pumpkins to see who can go farthest does not properly put into perspective the sheer awesomeness that is this now nationally renowned event.
Carolyn saw how awesome it could be within seconds. She also saw that the event was held not too far from her in Bridgeville, Delaware. So, looking to see for herself if this would indeed be the event that would launch her parents’ group to another level (pun intended), Carolyn and her husband made the journey to see the Chunkin for themselves. What they saw exceeded their expectations.
As Carolyn said “It was the coolest thing! After two hours, I knew we had to do this.”
Carolyn’s original goal was to advocate for children through the Lumberton Gifted and Talented Parents Group. Punkin Chunkin gave her the perfect outlet. It had engineering to appeal to the subjects of science and math, it was tactile for children to build and create new machines, and it had to look good, so it worked for those children with a more artistic bent. It ended up being the perfect out of school project because it could bring in everybody, no matter their talents or interests.
So you may be wondering, “this sounds cool, but how does this affect people with ALS?” Needless to say, launching pumpkins needs more than just creative children and volunteers. You also need enough land space to make the project work. Carolyn asked a neighbor, Mr. Prickett, if they could have his permission to use his barn and pumpkins for the event. That winter, Mr. Prickett’s wife Kay was diagnosed with ALS.
Due to Mr. Prickett’s generosity, and what she quickly saw was a terrible disease, Carolyn decided to make Punkin Chunkin an event to raise money for people with ALS. She also named her team at the event “Prickett’s Punkin Chunkers” in Kay’s honor.
Now, because the event would also be a fundraiser, they needed marketing and press, which meant that the children could use even more of their talents in promotions. Everybody was getting involved. With their energy and enthusiasm, that first year was a huge success, so Carolyn and her group continued and made Punkin Chunkin an annual event.
In fact, it has grown so much that last year over 2,000 people attended.
As the event continued to grow, so did the organizers’ needs. They moved to the Burlington County Fairgrounds in 2012 because they needed a place big enough to throw a pumpkin over 2,000 feet. Not every event has that problem of course. Originally, they felt this could be a big gamble, but it paid off right away.
Carolyn and her committee have also partnered with the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee and the Tractor Pull Association. The Tractor Pull contributes money to the ALS cause and each of the vendors donate a portion of their proceeds as well. The committee sells t-shirts, holds games, and people can donate to launch a machine and see how far they can chunk a pumpkin.
Over the years, not only has Carolyn seen the event grow, but she has also seen many faces and families affected by ALS. In her first year, she met a young man who was a cyclist living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which hit home how real it all was for ALS families. She has also reconnected with a former co-worker who lost a husband to ALS recently.
“I thank the Lord that I’ve never had ALS in my family, but I’ve been really touched by it from all of the people I’ve met,” said Carolyn. “My goal is to continue to fight this disease. I pray that it doesn’t affect my family, but I’m dedicated to doing all I can to raise money for families facing life with ALS and I’ll continue to do it as long as the pumpkins will fly.”
Carolyn pulled together a team so that she wasn’t the only one in charge of Punkin Chunkin. Her goal is to make sure the event has a life of its own so that it can keep growing and raising money, even if she is no longer able to contribute for any reason.
A few years ago, Kay Prickett lost her battle with ALS, but Carolyn Hohne and her friends are determined to do all they can to win the war. Her efforts certainly make her a worthy volunteer of the month for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter and we are all proud to be on the same team.