In 2010, Germantown resident and cross country athlete Sara Whitestone became ill during her junior year of high school and soon was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, a condition that affects the central nervous system. If she pushes herself too hard, her symptoms worsen, often resulting in trips to the emergency room and weeks of inactivity. Despite being unable to walk for extended periods of time, Sara’s dreams of attending the University of Cincinnati (UC) were not diminished.
Once the staff of the Southwest Ohio Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar learned that Sara’s ability to navigate the University’s hilly campus depended upon obtaining a wheelchair, they set in motion to create Sara Spins. A charitable fund through The Dayton Foundation, Sara Spins helps individuals with disabilities, including providing Sara with a motorized wheelchair so that she could attend UC with her longtime friend and Sara Spins treasurer Erin Blanton.
Q. Sara, what exactly is myalgic encephalomyelitis?
Sara: Myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, is a debilitating illness that affects the central nervous system. Its symptoms range from mild to very severe. There is no cure for ME, and it can attack every system in the body and impact virtually every facet of your life. One of the most limiting symptoms is chronic fatigue. Plus, my nervous system triggers constant “fight-or-flight” responses, so my body interprets all input as life threatening. My pain and fatigue were so severe at times that I couldn’t get out of bed or tolerate light.
Fortunately my health has drastically improved in the last year. I’ve been receiving biofeedback treatment and heart rate training to help me control my physical reactions to stress. After four years, I now am able to walk to class without the assistance of a wheelchair. It was so exciting to actually walk into class the first time.
Q. What is Sara Spins?
Erin: Sara Spins is dedicated to raising funds and awareness for students with disabilities and providing technology and tools to help them as they pursue their education. We’ve raised over $20,000 to date through social media efforts, campus events and by sharing our story with others. These gifts are so generous and are truly making an impact. For example, we recently made a grant from our fund to Rapid Motion, a nonprofit that helps athletes with spinal cord injuries, to provide a specialized wheelchair for a 17-year-old student who was paralyzed following a severe car accident.
Sara: We’ve also started a new group on campus called The Alliance for Abilities with a mission to educate and encourage inclusiveness and community.
Q. How does The Dayton Foundation help you to help others?
Erin: The Dayton Foundation makes it easy for us to distribute our donations to charitable organizations that help individuals with disabilities. The Foundation is very accessible and easy to work with. Plus, being able to trust such an amazing organization has made all the difference for us. We are so grateful for their ongoing support.
Q. What advice can you share about giving?
Sara: My advice is to give more than you think you can. When we give ourselves to help others, whether it’s with our love, time or dollars, it can feel uncomfortable because we are making ourselves vulnerable. But when we take that risk, we really find the most reward and make a more positive difference.
From my experience with ME, I have learned that we are never alone in our struggles. My healing and success truly is a result of the community. I hope that others know that they aren’t alone either, and that their gifts and their kindness make a difference.
Q. How can others help your cause?
Erin: Anyone can help either by spreading awareness of Sara Spins and disability rights or donating to the Sara Spins Fund through The Dayton Foundation. Gifts are tax deductible since the Foundation is a not-for-profit organization. More information about our organization is available on our website at www.saraspins.org.
Q. How would you complete this sentence, “My giving makes me feel ___”?
Sara: Empowered and connected. I’m happy to pass on to others the kindness I’ve been blessed to receive.
The Dayton Foundation has been helping people help others since 1921 by managing charitable funds, awarding grants to nonprofits and launching community initiatives. Contact the Foundation at (937) 222-0410 or visit www.daytonfoundation.org.