August 22, 2010

Society Notebook: All hands

From organizers to attendees, the community comes through for a good cause at Harborfest: the search for a cure for multiple sclerosis.

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

Hope for a multiple sclerosis cure mixed with the salty summer breezes during Thursday night's MS Harborfest Benefit Auction at Ocean Gateway in Portland. The party marked the kickoff of the weekend-long nautical festivities, which serve as the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Maine chapter of the MS Society.

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John Edwards, of sponsor Bangor Savings Bank and a former board member, Mary Fuller, a former board chairwoman of the Maine chapter, and Sumner Weeks, a former board member.

Photos by Avery Kamila

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Emma Lishness, Malinda Lawrence, Tim Shannon and Lisa Skerlick, who all work at law firm and event sponsor Verrill Dana.

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to Avery Yale Kamila, Maine Sunday Telegram, One City Center, 5th Floor, Portland, ME 04010. Or call her at 791-6297.

If past years are any indication, over the course of the weekend the parties, regattas and races will raise more than $100,000, with 85 percent of every dollar going to support and advocate for people with MS.

The party in the gorgeous glass-walled space with wraparound views of the harbor featured more than 100 auction items, heavy hors d'oeuvres from USM Catering and plentiful drinks, including the signature Harbor Breeze cocktail composed of blueberry vodka, lemonade and Cointreau.

"Here in Maine there are 3,000 individuals who've been diagnosed with MS that we're aware of," Arlyn White, the CEO of the Greater New England chapter of the MS Society, told me.

She went on to explain that Maine, like most northern areas, has a high rate of MS, a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Women and people of northern European ancestry are most likely to be diagnosed with MS. The disease commonly strikes adults, but in recent years more children have been diagnosed with MS.

White explained there is much promising research afoot, which has the potential to lead to new treatments and possibly a cure. Two interesting avenues of research include stem cell investigations and the possible link between Vitamin D and MS.

"The chapter is here to improve the quality of life for individuals and family members who are struggling with the disease," White said.

The Maine chapter recently combined with the New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts chapters.

"We're delighted we've joined forces with everyone in northern New England," said Mary Jalbert, the former board chairwoman of the Maine chapter. "You add it all together and we have so much expertise."

One of the organization's experts is Janet Dunn of Alfred, who serves as an MS ambassador and often speaks to groups about the daily realities of living with the disease. Looking quite elegant perched on her black scooter, Dunn gave an inspiring speech, speaking about her constant struggle with pain and her ability to continue working at Goodall Hospital.

"I've had a bit of a miracle," she told the crowd. "I'm not on any medication."

When I chatted with her earlier in the evening, she expressed particular concern for the children being diagnosed with MS.

"That makes the fight to cure MS more necessary," she said.

Dunn then added, "If you have MS, it's not hopeless. I'm convinced a cure is coming in my lifetime."

WMTW TV anchor Shannon Moss did a lovely job serving as the party's master of ceremonies. She told us her family has been touched by MS, so it's a cause near and dear to her heart. Moss read a proclamation from Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones naming the entire weekend in honor of the event.

"Most events only get a day," Moss noted.

Bangor Savings Bank and Verrill Dana serve as lead sponsors of MS Harborfest, and many representatives from the two organizations were at the party. They included John Edwards and Gregg Piasio of Bangor Savings, and Gretchen Johnson, Malinda Lawrence, Tim Shannon, Lisa Skerlick and Emma Lishness of Verrill Dana.

Other notable folks at the party included Abby Cutler, who is the daughter of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler and is in her second year of medical school in Chicago; and Ellie Baker, who is one of the founders of Baker Newman Noyes and has had two close family members diagnosed with MS.

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Additional Photos

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Robert Picone, who serves on the MS Society board, and Sheila Nee, of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of the volunteer committee.

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Ellie Baker, of Baker Newman Noyes, her daughter Hannah Saturley, and her husband, Tom Saturley, who was the night’s auctioneer.


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