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Local business and community leaders jailed to benefit MDA

A long list of local business and community leaders from Tyrone, Bellwood, Altoona and other communities took an hour out of their work day to be escorted to jail via paddywagon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The 5th Annual MDA Altoona Area Lock-Up was sponsored by The Corner Table Restaurant, which also served as the jail. Transportation for individuals doing time was provided by Black Diamond Limousine, so the paddywagon was a little more luxurious than typical jailhouse transportation.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association was founded in 1950 by a small group of parents whose youngsters had muscular dystrophy. Those parents firmly believed there are no incurable diseases, only diseases for which no treatments have yet been found. That basic philosophy has animated MDA ever since.
MDA provides comprehensive medical services to tens of thousands of people with neuromuscular diseases at more than 230 hospital-affiliated clinics across the country. Our local MDA clinic, located at Lee Hospital in Johnstown, is available to serve anyone with one of the 40 neuromuscular diseases in the association’s program. Individuals receive diagnosis and follow-up care from specialists in neuromuscular disease.
Energized by its national chairman, Jerry Lewis, who has been MDA’s number-one volunteer for more than 40 years, MDA today is one of the world’s leading voluntary health agencies fostering research and medical care. MDA-funded scientists are in the forefront of gene therapy research and are testing potential treatments for several disorders.
A few of the more common researched and treated diseases in the MDA program are Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, Myotonic Dystrophy (Steinert’s Disease), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and Peroneal Muscular Atrophy (Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease).
MDA’s programs are funded almost entirely by the voluntary contributions of concerned individuals and cooperating organizations, which makes yesterday’s lock-up very important to MDA. The Altoona Area Lock-Up is one of the largest lock-up’s and is quite successful.
‘It’s to help individuals and their families that are living with neuromuscular diseases,” said Program Coordinator Michelle Rossman. “It all benefits local families, so it’s definitely a community-based event where individuals get to network with other people in their community and maybe change another person’s life more than what they would ever know.”
During the lock-up yesterday, individuals went to jail and donated his or her time to MDA for one hour. Once the individual arrived to jail, a souvenir mug shot was taken with the person wearing jail stripes and holding the MDA prison number sign.
The jailbird was then sworn in by Program Coordinator Jamie Muller, who was dressed up like a judge, because each person pleaded guilty to having a kind and generous heart. After being sworn in, the individual was placed in a cell, which was a table in the restaurant, and given a cell phone donated by Sprint, phonebooks, and other information needed to raise bail money.
Rossman explained, “They call family, friends and business associates for donations to benefit the MDA, and all of the donations will benefit individuals living in this part of the Pennsylvania region, such as Altoona and Tyrone, so families and individuals living with neuromuscular diseases are being helped by their neighbors.”
MDA presents goals for the jailbirds who decide to donate their time, and one goal it presents them is a goal of $3,500, which sends about six children to MDA’s Summer Camp. The camp for children in this area is at Camp Lutherlyn, which is located in Prospect.
Bail is set at $3,500, although, if the jailbirds can’t raise that amount at the end of the hour, they’re still free to go because every little bit helps. If they can send one child to camp along the way, all is well.
But, $3,500 for each jailbird is the goal because funding for MDA’s services does not come free. Wheelchairs and leg braces require an average of $2,000 in funding, and with repairs and modifications towards such equipment, an additional $500 per fiscal year is needed.
The MDA-sponsored summer camps offer a wide range of programs for young people ages 6 to 21, and the children look forward to going to camp and seeing old friends, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, playing football and just having a good time. But, it costs $525 per child for the full week of camp.
The lock-up program is a big proponent and is essential to summer camp whenever the jailbirds are raising their bail. MDA also covers clinic visits, support groups, communication devices and much more, so money is needed locally for this good cause. MDA provides many services for those with diseases.
“The children really appreciate what’s provided for them,” said MDA Health Care Services Coordinator Jenessa Ressler. “We try to have the sponsors attend camp, so it’s an opportunity for them to come up and see where their money is going, and the kids get to meet the people who actually sent them to camp.”
And the sponsors realize what their money is doing for the children. One of the local jailbirds during yesterday’s lock-up from Tyrone took some of his jail time to ponder upon why he was in jail.
“I’m not a salesman but you look at the cause, just like the YMCA or a good charity, and you just try and sell the product,” said Tyrone resident John Ramsey, CPA. “The product here is to bring healing and help to people who are chronically ill, and when you just share the cause most people will agree and pay something.”
Sponsor and owner of The Corner Table, John Cox, enjoys hosting the Altoona Area Lock-Up because he knows the importance of what the cause is benefiting. He plans to continue hosting whenever MDA calls, and is willing to help them out whenever he can.
“It’s for a good cause and we get a lot of new people in the restaurant, and it helps everyone out,” said Cox. “They have a good time and really don’t ask for much, and like I said, it’s a great cause.”
MDA District Director Randi Minerva stated, “We just appreciate the support of the participants and those in the community that donate to them.”
The Muscular Dystrophy Association and its programs are funded almost entirely by individual private contributors. The Association receives no government grants.
That in itself displays the success and efforts shown by the local communities in something as simple as a one hour jail sentence to raise money for a cause that exceeds much further than here.