George Manahan has two philosophies when it comes to fundraising: ask for the order and try not to leave any money on the table. George is the founder of the West Virginia Fox Trot, which is preparing for its eighth annual event at the end of the month.
George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2010. “At the time, I didn’t know anybody with Parkinson’s. I was frustrated,” he says. With his event, not only did George unite hundreds of others impacted by the disease, he brought awareness to his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. Each year, “Our hope is that we find new people in the community with Parkinson’s and they can come out at least for a day and be with people with PD and others who will support them,” he says.
Early on, George realized that by enlisting the help of others, he could expand the Fox Trot into what it is today — an event that draws 500 participants annually and has raised over $345,000 to date. When it comes to asking for the order, Connie Jones is his go-to. “A lot of people in Charleston know my fight,” Connie explains. “I really don’t have to ask for much. I tell people that my goal is to put the Foundation out of business and stick out my hand,” she says.
In its first year, the West Virginia Fox Trot brought in over $20,000 for Team Fox, the grassroots fundraising arm of The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF). Even as they continued to increase the number of participants, to get to the next level of fundraising, the event organizers sought sponsors. “We’ve built a solid sponsorship list of local companies and larger ones, such as pharmaceutical companies,” says George. “This year, we’ll raise more from sponsors than from registrations.”
Securing sponsorships is a tall order. With a main event committee of 12 — made up of people with PD and family members of those with PD — George delegates responsibilities. “You need a mix of people. We have people from different industries who bring different expertise and connections,” he says.
Beyond that, a support group of over 60 people with Parkinson’s sells tickets within their networks, further broadening the reach. “It takes a universe of a lot of different people,” says George. “As soon as you realize it’s not just your event — it’s everybody’s event — you can grow it.”
Throughout the year, the fundraising and community support continues. In addition to hosting a pancake breakfast, Connie recently started a support group just for women impacted by Parkinson’s. “We can talk about things that we might not be able to at other support groups,” she explains.
Today, even with the current situation around the coronavirus COVID-19 evolving daily, the West Virginia Fox Trot community refuses to leave anything on the table. “Everything keeps changing, but we will get through this and hopefully, with some money for the Foundation,” says George. Acting quickly in adherence with the guidelines of health officials, the West Virginia Fox Trot has decided to go on — virtually! According to the website, “All it means is that you have to find your own 5K course, which is 3.1 miles, to walk or run on.” To maintain the community aspect, the organizers are awarding the best photo, in addition to those with the fastest times submitted by midnight on Sunday, March 22.
While we may be in uncharted territory, one thing is certain: the resiliency of the Parkinson’s community in West Virginia and beyond is inspiring. You can help them reach their goal — and our shared goal of ending Parkinson’s — by participating virtually or making a donation online.
For information on the coronavirus and Parkinson’s, read a recent Ask the MD article.