Taking Charity to New Heights

Article by:
Kevin Burkart, EO Minneapolis/St. Paul
Kevin Burkart
EO Minneapolis/St. Paul

Kevin is the President of StepStoneGroup, Inc., a comprehensive creative agency providing clients with integrated marketing, design and promotional services. Kevin can be reached via e-mail at kevin@stepstonegroup.com, or through his Web site, www.perfectjumps.com.

This is a story about Parkinson’s disease.

It was a gorgeous morning on 31 July 1999. My friends and I had planned on camping along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers for the weekend.

As I was driving to the meeting point, I realized I hadn’t spoken to my dad that summer— at least, not as much as I would have liked. Something in my heart told me to call him. As an entrepreneur, I‘ve learned to always trust my instincts.

I picked up my cell phone and dialed. His wife answered. I told her I had to talk to my dad and tell him I love him. She said, “Okay, I’ll put him on right away.” When he fi nally answered, I noticed she had stayed on the line. Something wasn’t right. He was crying.

My dad said that the day before my call, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that can impair motor skills and speech. He wondered how I knew to call and tell him I loved him. This was the start of our long and arduous journey together.

Seeking Treatment

When I learned of my father’s diagnosis, what saddened me the most was that he was on the cusp of retirement. It seems we work so hard all of our lives, prepare for retirement, and then when we’re fi nally ready to relax, heart issues, cancer or some sort of terminal disease changes our plans. Hearing about my dad’s diagnosis taught me to appreciate my age and the good fortune I have in life. I was blessed to have a loving father, and I was determined to get him the treatment he needed.

My dad is a genius with a master’s degree from MIT, and now he struggles with day-to-day activities. The slow decline in both motor skills and his ability to participate in activities is a sad and obvious process to witness.

The struggle to cope with Parkinson’s is trying and tough. The medication dad takes has a lot of side effects, including incontinence and hallucinations. He screams and wrestles in his sleep a lot, he often thinks the house is on fire and he doesn’t feel comfortable driving because the medication puts him to sleep. On several occasions, he has woken up at stoplights to the sound of cars honking at him.

Worst of all, his memory has been terribly affected. It is diffi cult for him to connect dates and events, and oftentimes he will show up randomly at my office thinking we had an appointment. Even though his health continues to deteriorate, Dad is still hanging in there. His determination and faith has inspired me to reach out and do my part in supporting the Parkinson’s community.

Raising Awareness

I am continually frustrated with the lack of support for this disease. Oddly, it receives little attention in the media or fi nancial support for research when compared to other diseases that affect this number of people.

As an entrepreneur, I know that the smallest idea can be monumental. I know that with a little elbow grease and a dream, amazing things can occur. With that in mind, I decided to launch my own campaign. I created “The 100 Perfect Jumps for Parkinson’s,” an event that will put the spotlight on Parkinson’s disease and increase funding for the Parkinson

Association of Minnesota and the National Parkinson Foundation. The project combines two passions of mine: raising awareness and funds for the disease, and skydiving. My goal is to raise US$40,000 by making 100 skydives at an elevation of 2,200 feet in one day. It’s my intent to make a small impact. Not a huge impact. Not a global impact. A small, local impact.

I want to create community awareness for Parkinson’s and garner support from sectors we have previously been unable to tap. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, this is where the rubber hits the road. I’m not a fundraiser, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m just an entrepreneur. And what do entrepreneurs do when faced with a challenge? They “jump” in, lead and make things happen.

Making the Jump

I have been amazed at the generosity of my peers and community. The response has been nothing short of terrific. So far, I have raised almost US$28,000, and I know there’s a lot more to come. It’s been so comforting to know how many individuals and companies have pledged to help this wonderful cause. I know that my jumping will benefi t other victims of this disease, and that’s the greatest reward.

Like many entrepreneurs, I’m in a position where I can make a signifi cant difference. I can lead. I have the resources. I have a company and staff to back me up. I can leverage my resources, network and abilities to create something special. Many entrepreneurs are in the same position. Besides making business profi ts, we are capable of creating societal profi ts for others with whom we may never come in contact.

Overall, this experience has taught me a lot. I’ve learned that in life and business, you have to attack some problems head on, and you may have to be creative to accomplish a sense of social responsibility. Strive, create a goal, make it bombastic, gather the resources and make it real. These are the lessons I’ve learned.

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