Gala to benefit adults with muscular dystrophy

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 30, 2018

TROY — When he was a teenager at Berkley High School in 1978, Troy resident Roger Hella was so impressed with a presentation by the Muscular Dystrophy Association that he and four friends signed up to be volunteers at the MDA children’s summer camp. 

However, Hella was the only one of his friends to show up to volunteer at the camp. He’s been helping people with muscular dystrophy ever since. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Muscular dystrophies are a group of diseases caused by defects in a person’s genes. Over time, this muscle weakness decreases mobility and makes the tasks of daily living difficult.”

Muscular dystrophy, which is rare, can run in families, or someone might be the first in their family to have the condition, according to the CDC. 

Hella explained that at one time, the MDA sponsored summer camps for both children and adults, but the organization stopped funding the camps for adults in 1987 due to budget cuts. 

“I was very distraught about it, so I started up Volunteers Assisting the Disabled in 1988 as a measure to correct that,” he said. He currently serves as president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. 

VAD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization “devoted to assist with services that MDA can no longer provide. Our purpose is to raise and maintain funds to sponsor activities and services for patients with one of the 40-plus forms of muscular dystrophy and related neuromuscular disorders,” states its website. 

The organization also assists with the costs of mobility equipment needed to, for example, retrofit bathrooms, repair accessible vans and construct ramps. 

Hella said the the cost for an adult to attend the one-week summer camp at Camp Cavell, on Lake Huron, is about $350, and the annual total cost for the adult summer camp program is $35,000. 

“There’s a population (with muscular dystrophy) in this area,” Hella said. “Many live in group homes or at their parents’ homes. Often, patients don’t go anywhere except (to) their doctors. The camp gives them the experience where they’re treated like normal people. It’s a life-changing, humbling experience (for volunteers).” 

Hella said volunteers stay with the campers 24/7 for the entire week. 

“There’s one volunteer per camper who helps the camper with showering and eating, if needed,” he said. Activities include tree climbing with hoists, kayaking, painting, card games, live entertainment and bowling in nearby Lexington. 

“We never have enough volunteers, especially men,” Hella said. 

Chris West, a St. Clair Shores resident, has served as a volunteer at the camp for the last four years. 

“It’s a great organization,” he said of VAD. “This is the one week of the year they (campers) look forward to. You get very close to everyone.” 

VAD is hosting a gala to raise funds for the camp, and sponsorships are available. The Winter Gala will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at the San Marino Club, 1685 E. Big Beaver Road. Tickets cost $50 and include dinner and an open bar. A DJ and dancing will be featured, along with raffle prizes. Tickets can be purchased at vadcares.org. For more information, call (586) 996-9661.