How much money would you pay to flip a switch? How about $770! That’s Superior Court Judge Jack Panella’s winning bid to turn on the Easton Peace candle. At 106 feet high (32 meters), Easton’s Peace Candle is the worlds largest non-wax candle.
Easton Pennsylvania is my home town, and if you look at a map, you’ll see that it’s right next to towns like Bethlehem and Nazareth. I always joke that I live in the unholy part of the county. Unholy maybe, but not unimportant. George Taylor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a tavern in Easton where customers like George Washington and Ben Franklin used to enjoy their pint. The building dates back to 1753 and was recently sold for one dollar.

Kids might know Easton because it’s home to the Crayola Factory. And if you’re a boxing fan, you have heard of the “The Easton Assassin”, former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes. On November 27th, Holmes helped his friend Panella to light the Peace Candle. How many men does it take to flip a switch these days?

O TANNENBAUM
Easton has a strong German heritage. Rumor has it that the Germans put up one of the continent’s earliest Christmas trees in Easton in 1816. There’s a plaque suggesting that the very first Christmas tree in America was erected here, but several other towns are making that claim as well. Do we really care? Then why am I telling you this?

Even though the Dutch are celebrating St. Nicholas Eve (known as “Sinterklaas”), I have my eyes and ears set on December 25th. In fact, I just narrated two versions of the Nativity story, one taken from the New King James Bible and the other one from the Good News Testament. These recordings are my thank you gift to those who are willing to sponsor me for taking part in the yearly Walk MS Event in the spring of 2010.

As a voice-over actor I do a lot of talking but not enough walking. Here are two of my reasons to start ‘walking the talk’ for MS:

1. raise awareness
2. raise money

THE BIG UNKNOWN
One of the unfortunate things about Multiple Sclerosis is, that it’s hard to pin down. Like Christmas, MS is a bit of a mystery. We’re still pretty much in the dark about a cause as well as a cure. MS symptoms are unpredictable; they differ from person to person and can vary from day to day. One day, you might see my wife Pam walking with a cane, struggling to get to the car. The next day, you might spot her on a morning walk in the park. That’s something people don’t always understand.

How can someone appear to be doing fine one day, and almost ready for a wheelchair the next? Well, luckily you don’t have to be an expert to be informed. But some people don’t get it, until they get it. Believe me, you don’t want to be that person.

Then there’s a group that seems to think that MS is “all in the mind”, and that MS patients are “faking it”. Thank goodness it’s a minority, but to address these kind of misconceptions, there are stickers and shirts that say things like:

“My disabling chronic illness is more real than your imaginary medical experience.”

or

“You can have my handicap parking spot, if you take my MS too!”

FAMOUS FACES
Raising money to fight MS is not always easy, in part because MS doesn’t really have a familiar face. President Josiah Bartlet in the West Wing (played by Martin Sheen) had MS; actress Teri Garr and television personality Montel Williams have MS , but other than that, there aren’t too many “celebrity sufferers” to champion the cause. I’m not saying that it’s a must, but it doesn’t hurt to have famous spokespeople with whom the public can identify.

This year, “The Amazing Race” host Phil Keoghan took the MS Movement on a Ride Across America. Keoghan and others biked 3,500 miles from Los Angeles to New York City and raised half a million dollars.

GIVING A VOICE TO MS
My goal is not as ambitious, although I’d love to give Keoghan a run (or a bike ride) for his money! Phil had hundreds, sometimes thousands of people join him at every stage of his Amazing Ride. Corporate sponsors, local businesses and other teams injected his journey with cash. For now, I am just a one-man band, kicking off my “Giving a Voice to MS” campaign. That’s why I am asking you to join me, and please, let your friends, family and colleagues know about it too. The more the merrier, especially around Christmas!

LIVING AND GIVING
Meanwhile, snow has started to fall in Easton. The Peace Candle lights up the historic town square. I wish I could flip a switch and MS (and any other disease) would be gone forever. But it’s going to take a whole lot more than 770 dollars. We do need the wisdom of a Judge and the fighting spirit of a boxing champion to shine the light on Multiple Sclerosis, and find that cure. But in the meantime, there’s a lot that can be done to make the lives of people with MS so much brighter.

Come walk with me; join my campaign and become a sponsor, wherever you are! My Walk Website has all the details, including how you can get the 9-minute mp3 Nativity story read by yours truly.

Thank you so much!

Paul Strikwerda

PS: check out the original blog for more information and audio samples

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