Work with MDA, ALS has given her appreciation for gift of faith
GREEN BAY — For 30 years, social worker Carolynne Younk was for many clients in northeast Wisconsin the face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). As director of health care services, she was integrally involved in making a difference in the lives of those living with the challenge of an array of neuromuscular diseases.
Whether she found herself in a home setting, helping the client and family adapt to their often-changing situation, or helping young people enjoy a week of fun at the annual MDA summer camp, it was with joy and pride that she did her work.
But for everyone comes the time to make a change. For Younk it came last year when she retired from MDA. At 64, she decided she’d like to have more time with her husband of 36 years, Tim, and enjoy caring for her grandchildren a bit more. And oh, yes, there is the cleaning out of those closets that every retiree vows to get to.
But all that changed when the Wisconsin Chapter of the ALS Association found out Younk had retired and decided it would be a feather in their cap if they could lure her out of retirement to help them grow their services in northeast Wisconsin.
It didn’t take Younk long to accept their offer to serve in a part-time role as their first care services coordinator for 22 counties in northeastern and central Wisconsin. She also serves Menominee, Mich. The Wisconsin chapter is based in Wauwatosa.
The ALS Association is the only national not-for-profit health organization dedicated solely to leading the fight against ALS. It covers all the bases — research, patient and community services, public education and advocacy — to provide help and hope to those facing the disease which still has no cure.
Younk readily admits her passion lies with those living with ALS and their families. In the United States and Canada the disease is commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” named for the Hall of Fame New York Yankees first baseman who died in 1941 at age 37 from the disease.
“I want people to know that if there is a diagnosis of ALS that there is a tremendous amount of services in this area,” she said.
“They are not out there alone,” Younk added. “The ALS Association has given me such a gift to work with families that may not have had the opportunity.”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Carolynne Younk
Parish: St. Patrick, Green Bay
Favorite saint: Anthony
Words to live by: “It’s the dash in between that defines you. (Speaking of how you should live your life from birth through death.)
ALS is one of the most devastating of the disorders which affect the function of nerves and muscles, with an incidence of about two per 100,000 population, meaning, according to the 2000 census that 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year. That’s about 15 new cases each day.
Just what is ALS? Formally it is called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body, and when those motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.
Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell are not affected. For many, muscles of the eyes and bladder are also not affected, and in most cases the mind remains sharp despite the progressive degeneration of the body.
Younk said she currently knows of 80 to 90 people in her service area that live with ALS. And she believes there are some people out there who don’t want others to know that they have been diagnosed and, as a result, are being missed by beneficial services from the ALS Association.
Raised Methodist, Younk said, “My gift to my husband was converting to Catholicism.” But this gift chosen so many years ago now, blossomed quickly for Younk as a great love of the Catholic faith.
She loves volunteering at St. Patrick Parish in Green Bay, where she is a lector, a minister of hospitality and family life commission member. The commission organizes social events such as the volunteer appreciation dinner and the ministry fair. “It’s just the most fun,” she said.
She also volunteers in the reading program at Webster Avenue School, where her grandchildren attend. “I wanted to have the experience working with children,” she said. She has also offered her expertise as a social worker, perhaps she said when the topic of bullying comes up or in working with a child with a disability. She draws from her years working the MDA summer camp for kids and spoke of the conversations she had with the kids and the struggles they face.
“That’s been my role all my life. I’m a nurturer and a peacemaker,” said Younk, adding that she is humbled by the people she meets in her work. “I have learned so much from them.”
For more information about services for ALS patients and their families, Younk invites emails to [email protected] or call (920) 288-7095. See www.alsawi.org for more information about the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter.