July 2017 Volunteer of the Month
Gary Goldstein

There are many common themes to those individuals whom we recognize as Volunteers of the Month at The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter. These include compassion, eagerness to help, empathy for ALS families, and more. Then there is the usual “Oh, you shouldn’t thank me. Thank somebody else who has done more.”

That was the response from the July Volunteer of the Month, Gary Goldstein, when he was told that the Chapter was recognizing his volunteer efforts. Over and over again, Gary’s actions reflect a man who gives back to the ALS cause with energy and care in every capacity.

Gary doesn’t volunteer for himself. He began volunteering with The ALS Association because he saw how the disease took the life of his wife Paula. Before Gary knew Paula, he only knew about ALS because his mother loved the movie Pride of the Yankees, but that did not explain much about the disease. Living with Paula taught him much more.

To understand why and how Gary identifies with ALS families today, it’s important to see how he traveled the ALS journey with Paula. She was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, but began feeling symptoms in 2008. Paula quickly believed she had ALS, not because she just made it up, but because her father had passed away from the disease and she understood the symptoms very well.

Gary watched as all of those symptoms and challenges took hold of his wife. He watched as she lost her voice, how she could no longer use her hands well, and how she could no longer walk. With each of Paula’s physical setbacks, Gary was there to make the battle somewhat less painful. Paula may not have had the same abilities anymore, but she’d always have Gary’s love.

In addition to the physical challenges, Gary saw how difficult ALS made the rest of Paula’s life. They had to deal with healthcare and insurance. He was as exacerbated as his wife when it took too long for Paula to finally be diagnosed. The simple moments that others might think were minor details became important -  like when a covered tray of food was delivered to Paula during a hospital stay and Gary knew immediately that he’d have to lift the cover or his wife couldn’t eat.

With each roadblock that ALS presented, another thought kept running through Gary’s mind, and that was the realization that other people were facing the same battle. When he held Paula’s hand, especially in those last months before she passed away in 2013, Gary knew that, somewhere else, in fact in thousands of homes across the country and the region, someone else was holding the hand of a loved one with ALS.

While Gary saw the challenges of Paula’s life with ALS, he also saw hope in friends and family  who helped in so many ways. Their friend Bob Harbison created a fundraising event called Chilly Chili for Paula, a chili cook-off which took place in the Downingtown area for several years. . That was where Gary met another person with ALS, Steve Potter, and his wife Charlotte, who seemed to alwayswin the chili contest.

Others helped too. Paula had a Chapter Visiting Volunteer. Her daughter started a Walk to Defeat ALS team. She advocated with Chapter staff and volunteers in DC. The disease was always a challenge, but the kindness from others made it somewhat easier. When Paula passed away, Gary wanted to give back just as others had supported his wife and him. It was a lesson that his parents had instilled in him and there was no way that he could take in so much love from others without finding a way to return the favor.

Gary walked through the Chapter doors in 2014 and asked what he could do next. He signed up as a Community Ambassador, going through an educational training and then agreeing to attend events to highlight the Chapter and the ALS cause. Since then, he has helped with information tables at events all over the region, often multiple times. In 2016, he was an ambassador at the Dave-a-palooza fundraiser, which raised money for the Chapter in honor of a local man with ALS. Gary went to the event again in 2017 because he wanted to be there for Dave.

When an Outback Steakhouse opened in King of Prussia, Gary worked at an information table. The manager told him that they chose to partner with The ALS Association because, when they presented the idea to charities, The Chapter talked about actual patients by name, and not just numbers as a whole. That is why Gary volunteers. Not for the cause, though it is important, but for Paula, for Dave, for Steve, and for others who are real people battling a terrible disease.

Gary also spoke with Chapter nurse Gail Houseman about becoming a Visiting Volunteer. In the past few years, Gary has volunteered with four different ALS families, helping with household needs, listening to them, and providing friendship. He understood the value that Paula received from the program and was eager to give back in the same way. Gary doesn’t think of it as helping four families. He takes every one of them personally. Right now he is there for Diane from Pottstown, making sure that she and her family has assistance where needed.

Naturally, Gary also found a way to work with Steve and Charlotte Potter as well. The Potters have long been involved with ALS advocacy, visiting Washington, DC to talk about issues like funding research. Now Gary joins them each May and he also helps with state advocacy in Harrisburg, PA. In his first year as an ALS Advocate, Gary took only Paula’s story with him. He carries on her memory and life so that others will benefit. Today, he takes those others ALS stories too. Each one is important. Each one motivates Gary to do more.

Volunteering is not easy for Gary Goldstein. Yes, he can physically do whatever is needed. He may even try to do cartwheels if someone said it would help the ALS cause! The difficult thing is that Gary takes every moment, every person, every hour to heart. He may leave a person’s home or someone’s event, but their story doesn’t leave his heart.

Paula’s story will never leave his heart or his mind. And, for that, Gary will continue to give back to her the best way he can. He’ll use the time he has to make the world a better place. One ALS family at a time.


 
 

The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002
215-643-5434

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.