Gina Lisella has only been with the National MS Society since July 2012, and while she might be new to the Society, her time as an advocate spans almost three decades. For 27 years Gina worked as a nurse, but after her MS diagnosis in 2008 she was forced to retire due to worsening symptoms. As time passed, she realized what she missed most about nursing was her ability to be an advocate for others. “When I stopped doing nursing I missed helping people – for the first time in 27 years I did not have that in my life, when I was done battling for myself to get stronger after being diagnosed with MS – I wanted to battle for other people.”
Her first experience as a volunteer included speaking with a local representative, encouraging them to join the MS Caucus. In March 2013, Gina attended the Public Policy Conference in D.C with 300 other MS volunteers across the nation and lobbied representatives to support MS funding. Her favorite part about volunteering is “being able to go to my congressman’s office and have them understand what MS is and why funding is so important. That way, I can help people better understand and utilize the resources they have.” Gina understands that, “sometimes it takes a little push [to volunteer] – the step outside your comfort zone is the hardest, but once you get out there and have a support system and see how involved you can get – it feels good!”
Frank Austin has been a volunteer to the National MS Society over 10 years. After proudly serving in the Navy for nine years, service is something he understands. Frank initially began as a volunteer while living in California, and continued his participation upon his move to Western, PA. For the past 15 years, Frank has experienced firsthand the debilitating effects of MS after being diagnosed with the disease in 1997. He was determined to not let MS stop him from playing an active role in participating and fundraising for events like: Walk MS. Frank was chosen to be the MS Champion for the Mitsubishi Motors U.S. Bike MS team for six years and served as chair to a committee that research public transportation in Orange County, California.
His main goal in volunteering was to create a support system for men with MS while working towards a cure. His dedication and advocacy efforts have never strayed from this goal. “From politicians, insurance companies, and people, things are said without being challenged. So challenge everything.” As a volunteer leader, he inspires individuals every day, but Frank also looks to others for motivation and support. In particular, Ron Bird, a male support group leader, was very influential in Frank’s life and inspired him to become a volunteer. Frank shares that Bird passed away from illnesses related to MS but – “he would be so proud of where we are now. It was not until after he died that the support group really took off.”
Frank believes that people should get involved and volunteer, “Do not be afraid of the other people on the phone because they are exactly like you! They have a job, you have a job; they get up in the morning, you get up in the morning. Do not be afraid to interact, people are responsive! Just try it once, and you might surprise yourself on how well you do, and how easy it is.”