The late journalist Gloria Greer founded ACT for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1998 after her daughter Norma was diagnosed with the incurable disease. Original founders were Peggy Cravens, the late Jackie Lee Houston, Lori Sarner and Diane Marlin Dirkx. After inviting the Jimmie Huega Center for MS to give a 2 day workshop for ACT for MS clients on the importance of physical activity in delaying the progression of MS, the board decided to make strength training the cornerstone of the charity’s free programs. The mission is to improve the quality of life for clients with multiple sclerosis in the Coachella Valley by providing concrete assistance now. Our vision is Helping Clients Live Stronger Longer!
By the summer of 2000, ACT for MS offered the first strength training program in the Coachella Valley for people diagnosed with MS. ACT for MS supervised student trainers from the College of the Desert’s Department of Adaptive Physical Education who worked with ACT for MS clients.
Two years later it came to the attention of the board that some clients had to choose between paying their summer electric bills or buying food. During the hot summer months electric bills go “through the roof.” In response, ACT for MS began offering an assistance program of help with electric bills and servicing home and car air conditioners during the hottest summer months. This program is only available to clients living at or below the poverty level.
In 2004, speaker/support luncheons for those with MS and their caregivers were initiated as well as reflexology and therapeutic massage / stretching. Massage in particular, boosts circulation and is vital for those with mobility issues, who need help manipulating stiff muscles. At the same time, ACT for MS began offering clients the use of canes, walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters as needed.
In the next several years, the strength training program would grow to a point of needing three different training facilities. ACT for MS outgrew the student trainers at the College of the Desert, and began contracting with local gyms / trainers to service the ACT for MS clients.
The organization also moved from its 200 square foot office to a larger space in the Palm Desert Civic Center Campus in 2008, and began developing plans for a Client Resource Center. That same year, chair yoga was offered free of charge to all clients and their relative, partner or caregiver.
In 2009,The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation provided a grant to fund the Client Resource Center, equipping it with technology and information resources not otherwise available to clients. That same year, The Auen Foundation provided a grant to enhance strength training to expand it to provide specific training for older clients.
Between 2009 and 2016, ACT for MS received several more grants to continue growing the list of program offerings, including Aquatic Therapy, all of which build strength, increase flexibility and mobility, and lower pain. All of these physical programs are offered free of charge to our clients.
Some of the success of these programs was due to husband- and-wife board members, Richard and Lynn DeSantis. Lynn was not only a board member, but a client as well, and when she passed away in 2012, ACT for MS renamed the strength training program the Lynn DeSantis Therapy Program. Richard credits the program with extending his wife’s life by at least five years.
Board member and client James (Jim) Conway also helped build the organization, serving as Treasurer for many years, and as President. He told board member Ann Greer that the support sessions offered by ACT for MS extended his life by at least 5 years, alleviating the loneliness and depression that often accompanies the disease. We lost Jim in 2015.
By 2016, ACT for MS was serving almost 100 clients.
Since 1999, ACT for MS has distributed over $3,000,000 in much needed support for Coachella Valley residents living with MS. All funds raised here stay here.