April Volunteer of the Month
People rarely volunteer for prestige and notoriety. Since The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter started a Volunteer of the Month program in 2012, many of those whom the Chapter has recognized have been surprised, thinking that their efforts weren’t special. They were just doing what is needed. However, that’s always what the best volunteers do. They step up when needed to help advance the ALS mission.
Dawn McEleney has been stepping up for the ALS cause for nearly 15 years.
When Dawn’s father was diagnosed with ALS in the mid 1990’s, she did not know much about the disease at all. There was no Chapter website and certainly no Chapter social media. She recalls how the whole family felt lost, not just because her beloved father was facing the challenges of ALS, but because they didn’t know how to help, where to go, or what would happen next. Dawn was pregnant when he passed away in 1999, but she knew that when the opportunity to help came up, she would step up so that other families would not have to feel the same way.
In 2003, that opportunity arrived. Dawn was asked to get involved with a new event, the Wayne Walk to Defeat ALS. The Chapter wanted to make sure that it was a success and they needed all of the help that was available. She said yes and joined the walk committee and also formed her own team.
Dawn recalls that first committee meeting when she walked in and sat with Nancy Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies, along with other wives of Phillies players. She was starstruck, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of feeling a need for autographs, she felt a concern that she wasn’t really at the level of what was needed.
“I’m more of a doer than anything,” Dawn said as she looked back on her years of involvement. “I would show up at the walk site and make sure everything was set up correctly and I would help with some media connections. When I saw all of these big names, I wondered if I was good enough for what the Chapter needed to succeed.”
Of course, Dawn was not just good enough; she was exactly what the Chapter needed then and now. The success of the Chapter is built on volunteers who show up and do what is necessary. She may not have been the lead organizer, but Dawn was instrumental in making sure that the Wayne Walk to Defeat ALS went smoothly for years until it moved to Citizens Bank Park and became the Greater Philadelphia Walk to Defeat ALS®.
During her time organizing for the walk, Dawn formed many lasting friendships with people like Al and Kelly Slipakoff. Now when she came to an event, it wasn’t just to volunteer, it was to see her friends.
On the subject of friends, Dawn was next asked to help with the new Young Friends group. She went to a meeting to learn more and she ended up on the Hot Chocolate committee. For years now, Dawn has been an active part of the Hot Chocolate event, getting sponsorships from her employer AT&T, securing media attention, and making sure that the event space is set up well for guests.
Had Dawn just supported the Wayne Walk and Hot Chocolate, that would be enough to highlight her work with the Chapter, but of course, Dawn does so much more every year.
After doing so much work with other events, Dawn was asked to help with the annual Phillies Phestival. She couldn’t imagine being a bigger Phillies fan than she already was, but when she saw how the players and management devoted their time to ALS families, she fell in love even more than she could have imagined.
“I really enjoy helping with the Phestival,” said Dawn. “When you first go, you think these big celebrity players would just brush it off, but no, they are always putting patients first and are so humble. Moments like the Phestival remind me of my dad and my family and that makes it all worth it.”
Dawn is a great resource at the Phillies Phestival because she helps sponsors navigate the event and makes sure that people with ALS have a good time as well. She has always loved seeing how patients benefit. The growth of the Chapter in her 15 years of volunteering motivates her to continue. The research and services available now are, according to Dawn, things that she only dreamed of back in the 1990’s.
That is why Dawn is motivated to help in every way that she can. She gives through United Way at work and uses AmazonSmile when she shops online to donate to the Chapter. She also offers her time to help at the Annual Luncheon, guiding people where they need to go and making sure that the event goes smoothly.
The ALS cause brought Dawn to the Greater Philadelphia Chapter, but it’s the people that keep her going.
“You’re not going to give your time if you don’t like the people,” reflects Dawn. “People like Kelly Rose, Kathryn Meloni, the Kaplans and others are like family now. They make it fun and important.”
Everyone at the Chapter would say the same thing about Dawn McEleney. She makes events fun and does anything that is asked if it helps the ALS cause. Everybody who has worked with Dawn is grateful for her time, her energy, and her commitment to the promise of helping ALS families. She may not admit it, but the Chapter has been able to grow and succeed because of people like Dawn, who do what needs to be done year after year, all to get us closer to ending ALS for good.