Small Town, Big Hearts

By Julie Lefelar

If you decide to take a trip through Southern Maryland down Route 210, also known as Indian Head Highway, you can’t help but realize that the further south you go, the more buildings, businesses and signs of the busy Washington DC Metropolitan area that you just came from seem to disappear. If you keep driving, you might just miss the town promised as the destination by its namesake road: Indian Head, Maryland. You would have expected traveling down that route that there would be an explosion of civilization upon your arrival. Instead, you will find a peaceful, unassuming main street, quaint neighborhoods, a beautiful community center called the Pavilion at the Village Green and the Naval Surface Warfare Center lining the Potomac River. It is in this center of town where, if you take a closer look, you will find unmatched generosity and community support. It is here where we experienced the big hearts of Indian Head in planning and holding our SRNA Walk-Run-N-Roll.

It all started when Cynthia Albright, a resident of Indian Head and a MOG Antibody-Associated disease patient of Dr. Michael Levy, ran into Curtis Smith, the Town Councilman. They started talking about her diagnosis of MOGAD and her involvement with the MOG Project at SRNA. He encouraged her to host a walk at the Village Green. As a co-founder of the MOG Project at SRNA, she contacted me and I was sold on the idea. We brought in Tanisha Willis, an NMOSD patient of Dr. Levy’s, who jumped at the chance to help.  Amy Ednie and Kristina Lefelar, Co-Founders of the MOG Project decided to make the commitment as well.  It wasn’t long before Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin got involved and the next thing we knew, the town of Indian Head had provided us with a beautiful venue at the Village Green and all the help we would need. Karen Williams, their event guru, pulled in volunteers and ideas for our event that would make it fun for all.

It didn’t stop with the town leaders. Cynthia was able to reach out to multiple businesses in the Indian Head area for support and with no second thought, they were all on board to support us. We got free services and donations for raffle items from many businesses interested in our cause and helping Cynthia. Dr. Levy once again demonstrated his generosity and commitment to the community by agreeing to speak at the event. Mayor Paulin and Councilman Smith stepped up to speak as well. It wasn’t long before we had a plan for a fun event which included inflatable carnival games, cotton candy, DJ Rockin’ Roger, face painting by Allison Ryan (a Disney face painting artist), an assortment of beautiful raffle and silent auction items like a hand-crocheted afghan by Cynthia’s husband Randy, a “MOGarita Basket”, a “Bark Basket” and two Mother’s Day baskets, among other items. We even planned on having MOG gear for sale, such as T-shirts designed by Allison Ryan and awareness ribbons. Members of the community and family members helped set up a bake sale, “MOGTail” drink station and concessions for the event. We did have a few hiccups along the way, but when an issue arose, Mayor Paulin scrambled to our rescue and, with the help of another local non-profit, the Indian Head Center for the Arts, all was well. Suddenly, we realized that this little town could make anything happen!

As we continued to plan, other Maryland businesses jumped in to help.  We were thankful to have had the support of our friends at Smoker’s Delight BBQ, Leverege (a rising technology company), Acker & Sons Plumbing, Gun Monkey’s, Firearms Training Incorporated, Blue Dyer Distillery, MoCo Founding Farmers, Target, JDaniels Psychotherapy Services, INC, the LaPlata Green Turtle, Chipotle, and White Plains Golf Course. We also had many other local businesses donate food, drinks and supplies, such as BJ’s, Costco, Giant, Safeway, Chick-Fil-A, Walmart and Texas Ribs & BBQ.  We can’t thank all of our sponsors enough for helping.  This event would not be possible without their support.  In addition, we had many volunteers who jumped in to make this a success and for that we are grateful.

On the day of the event, clouds loomed overhead, and we were afraid that our Walk would be rained out. We arrived early and diligently set up in preparation for the start of the event. As the time for the event arrived, suddenly the clouds parted and to our disbelief, the sun came out! What a miracle. People had a wonderful time dancing and playing games. When it was time for the speakers, Cynthia gave a heartfelt speech, telling her story and how supporting rare neuroimmune disorders is important. Mayor Paulin, Councilman Smith, and Dr. Levy all provided inspiring words.

Everyone had fun. Councilman Smith and Mayor Paulin gave life to the party. Everyone chipped in to help, whether to blow up balloons, help put up the welcome sign or excite the masses. Even the local high schools, Maurice J. McDonough, Loudoun County and Henry E. Lackey sent students eager and excited to volunteer.

While everyone had a great time, we saw the best zest for life from Team Victoria, a group of family and friends from New Jersey whose little girl Victoria had been diagnosed with AFM and is currently doing well. This family seemed to be celebrating her and at the same time showing their solidarity and commitment to keeping her and other children like her well.

When the event came to a close, clearly a success, we started packing up, satisfied that we had done our jobs. Just as the last box was packed in the car and the cleanup was finalized by the sound of a trunk closing, the rain started. And it really poured.

In retrospect, our hearts were full after this event. The incredible community support was overwhelming, and the town of Indian Head was the driving force for it all. We are thankful for this small town, who saw one of their own in need for a cure of a rare disease and decided to act, putting Indian Head on our map and in our hearts.