Bonnie Walsh has served the ALS Association of Texas in different roles since March 2003. She currently serves as the Regional Development Manager for the Southwest Region of the state, managing two Walks to Defeat ALS and Battle ALS with Flowers, as well as other development activities. Read her story about her time with the Chapter and how it’s affected her life – both professionally and personally.
Almost 14 years ago, I returned home to San Antonio a single mom of two, after living in St. Louis for many years. After getting settled, I got my kids involved in sports, and that’s when I met another mom and the executive director of the ALS Association’s South Texas Chapter. As we got to know each other, I told her that I was born and raised in the area, and that I had contacts with the media and some local corporations, so if she ever needed me to help out, to give me a call. A week later, she called me to ask if I was interested in more than volunteering, and she offered me a job that would forever change my life.
I had never worked for a nonprofit organization when I started with the ALS Association in 2003, it was a blessing for me to get this job. I had a sales background – I used to work in radio sales and had worked for local radio stations in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, so I knew I could apply that experience and those relationships to fundraising and strengthening our efforts at the Chapter.
As a Regional Development Manager, I lead the fundraising efforts in the southern region of the Chapter so that we are able to provide high-quality care for our families. It’s my job to go out there and identify private and corporate donors, as well as lead events in the area to generate revenue to drive our budget.
I think what I enjoy most about my job are the hugs from our patients and families that just say ‘Thank you for what you’re doing,’ going to visit a patient at the hospital and them saying “We couldn’t have done this without y’all,” or being included by name in a patient’s eulogy – actually making a real difference in someone’s life. I love that I am humbled and inspired by our families and volunteers every single day. The people I’m fortunate to work with are facing the most difficult journey of their lives, and their outlook is so positive and so joyful, even though below the surface, their daily routine is a struggle. But the majority of our patients…you would never know that. They are just so grateful and so excited about every day, and that inspires me. Where else can you work that every day is a unique situation, one that’s inspiring and reminds you of all that you’re blessed with? Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but it’s what keeps me going after all these years.
When your job is to fundraise for a disease like ALS, which isn’t as well-known as other diseases, it can be difficult and frustrating. I often feel like I have such a small amount of time to help our patients and families with the money we raise. My biggest challenge is getting companies and corporations to get behind the ALS Association like I wish they would. I want to take the burden of raising the bulk of our funds off of the families facing ALS. Ironically, our ALS families raise the majority of our Walk to Defeat ALS funds, while many of them are probably facing the biggest financial struggle of their lives. I want our local and corporate companies to step up to the plate and help take this burden off of families. I think that’s my biggest goal.
My heart breaks all the time. All the time. It’s a double-edged sword for me – what the inevitable outcome is for the patients and families who I meet, get to know, and fall in love with. That’s the hardest part of this job. There’s a line that Julia Roberts says in one of my favorite movies, “Steel Magnolias”: “I would rather have 30 minutes of something wonderful than a lifetime of nothing at all.” I have it displayed on my computer desktop at work. When I meet our patients and their families knowing what the outcome is going to be, I keep telling my heart that I would rather have 18 months or two years of something wonderful with them than nothing at all. But would I give up meeting and knowing them in exchange for a cure for this disease, or better yet, them not being diagnosed at all? Absolutely, in a heartbeat.
The biggest game changer in the 13 years of being here has to be the Ice Bucket Challenge. Finally, after all these years of working so hard to get the word out about what ALS is and working so hard to try educate the masses about our mission, to have people finally know what ALS is and learn about what our patients have to endure, something we’ve known all along – I was so glad to be a part of that. When it took off two years ago, I remember my coworker Julia running into my office, and we just laughed and cried and celebrated. “Finally!” we kept saying. “Other people are going to get it! The world is going to know what we’ve been trying to get out there all these years!” It was an exciting time! It still is!
Before, when people would ask where I work, or when I would call to schedule meetings, nine times out of 10, people would say “What’s ALS?”. Now, the majority of the people I talk to know exactly what it is. It gives me a bigger window to crawl through to talk with them about it. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person. But when it came to the reality of ALS, I realize looking back, that I was a bit skeptical about the reality of finding a treatment or a cure. But now I’m hopeful. Very, very hopeful. I want the outcomes and results to come quicker. For us to identify a cause and build that foundation really strongly so we can come up with a treatment here in the next five to 10 years. That’s my hope. Because the cure would come from that. And that’s the ultimate goal for us all.
If I can be completely honest about this, and I know it’ll sound hokey or cliché, but working here has changed who I am, and not just me, but my children too. Back then, we were such a small organization, and my kids were so young, so I’d take them everywhere with me after hours. They’ve always volunteered at all my events and helped at the office during the summers. It’s instilled a servant’s heart in my children, which has been awesome to watch.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was strong enough emotionally to work for an organization that serves the terminally ill. I never thought I could do that. I would look at people who did work in those sorts of places and think, “Gosh, I don’t know how they do that.” And now, 13, almost 14, years later, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Next to raising two pretty awesome kids to be kind and good human beings, it has been the most rewarding thing that I have done in my life. And that’s the truth.