On Saturday, May 11 and 18, volunteers wearing yellow aprons and holding collection canisters will be stationed in front of stores throughout Elgin as part of the Les Turner ALS Foundation's Tag Days drives.
Local resident Bill Klawitter is spearheading this effort, with help from his fellow Elgin Lions Club members, in honor of Dan Weiler and in memory of his mother-in-law.
A true grass-roots campaign, Tag Days helps increase awareness of ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig's disease) and also raises funds to support medical research, patient services and educational activities. The Elgin Tag Days drive is one of nearly 30 community drives in the Chicago area.
As president of the Elgin Lions Club, Klawitter has volunteered for Tag Days drives to benefit the Club, but has never served as the captain of this type of fundraising effort. Organizing the donation drive involves coordinating with the city and retailers, recruiting volunteers, assigning people to shifts, and collecting and tallying funds. Volunteers typically commit to a two-hour shift and are stationed at highly-visible locations, such as the Jewel on Larkin Avenue and the Super Wal-Mart on Randall Road.
In 2012, Weiler, his wife and brother coordinated the local fundraising drive for the Les Turner Foundation, raising nearly $900; however, this year the team decided it would be too taxing, and therefore they needed to pass the baton to someone else or accept that there would not be a Tag Days drive in Elgin.
"When I heard that the Les Turner ALS Foundation needed someone to organize the Elgin donation drive this May, I didn't hesitate to take this on because I felt it would be an ideal way to make a difference to Dan and the ALS community, and would be a meaningful tribute to my mother-in-law who lost her battle against the disease two years ago," explained Klawitter.
Klawitter is gathering support from Lions Club members and other friends in the area.
"The success of Tag Days is dependent upon the manpower behind the effort," explained Wendy Abrams, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. "Any drive, large or small, makes a difference, as it helps raise public awareness and brings in critical donations, but we find the drives with significant numbers of volunteers are able to collect thousands of dollars in just one day of 'tagging.'"
In late 2008 when Weiler was experiencing weakness in his legs, he thought the issue might be caused by sciatica. He saw several doctors and endured numerous tests, yet no one was able to confidently diagnosis the problem. Eventually, he saw Dr. Teepu Siddique at the Les Turner/Lois Insolia ALS Center at Northwestern where he was told he has ALS.
Today Weiler uses a wheelchair for mobility and is beginning to lose muscle strength in his left hand. He has stopped driving and needs assistance with everyday tasks, such as getting dressed and eating. However, with full use of his mind and his voice, he continues his work as an attorney at his own law firm.
Despite his declining health, Weiler maintains a positive attitude and participates in activities, such as Lions Club meetings, as often as he is able.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Bill and my friends from the Lions Club will be honoring me through the local Tag Days drive, and I appreciate that they are carrying on this important fundraiser in our community, which has been supportive of this cause in the past," Weiler said. "So many friends from the Lions Club and beyond have offered assistance along this journey and they help keep us positive and strong."
Throughout May, which is National ALS Awareness Month, volunteers will hit the streets in the following communities: Algonquin; Barrington; Batavia; Bloomingdale; Buffalo Grove; Carol Stream; Chicago neighborhoods/venues (Lincoln Park, Union Station); Crystal Lake; Elgin, Elmhurst; Evergreen Park; Flossmoor; Glen Ellyn; Glenview; Grayslake; Huntley; Lake in the Hills; Lake Zurich; LaPorte, IN; Lincolnwood; Lombard; Marengo; Mount Prospect; New Lenox; Northbrook; Northfield; Park Ridge; Schaumburg; Skokie; Sycamore; Wauconda; Western Springs; and Wheaton.
To volunteer for Tag Days in Elgin, call Bill Klawitter at (847) 695-2598. For information about ALS, call (847) 679-3311 or visit lesturnerals.org.