Firefighters ‘boot’ Muscular Dystrophy

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

August 2, 2006

Hood River Firefighter Paul Henke has vowed to perch on top of a billboard along 12th Street until the Fill the Boot campaign has collected $12,000.

However, he doesn’t expect that such drastic measures will be necessary to get community support for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Last year, residents contributed $10,500, which was $6,000 more than Portland firefighters took in.

Henke said even though the City of Tualatin raised $37,808, it was still far less than Hood River County when based on the overall population.

“We are doing a great job here of helping kids,” he said.

For the past three years Henke has spearheaded the local drive to support MDA research and programs.

“Basically, we stand in the middle of the road at two intersections the first weekend in August to ask for money,” he said.

Henke and his wife, Jennifer, will kick off the 2006 fund-raiser by approaching the First Friday crowd in downtown Hood River on Aug. 4 with a rubber boot. Then, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, about 15 firefighters and their family members extend the boot to motorists at Second and Oak streets and at the junction at 12th Street and Pacific Avenue.

“It’s a lot of fun but by the end of the day most of our legs and feet are hurting from walking around on the cement. But I tell everyone to remember that whatever discomfort they are feeling is something the kids helped by MDA have to live with every day,” said Henke.

He is excited about a recent medical breakthrough that money from Fill the Boot helped facilitate. The Federal Drug Administration recently approved a new treatment for Pompe’s Disease, a defective enzyme that kills affected infants by the age of 2. Through new enzyme replacement therapy, Henke said many babies will be able to grow up and live productive lives.

“Many times people don’t give money to a cause because they don’t really believe it will make a difference — but MDA dollars really do,” said Henke.

He is confident this year’s fund-raising goal can be met because of the $3,000 increase in profits from 2004.

But, if an additional $1,500 can’t be generated during the weekend, Henke has no problem taking a seat on the billboard and waiting it out.

After all, he’s in love.

Each year, Henke goes to the MDA camp near Rhododendron on Mount Hood and “falls in love with someone new.” It is hard for the veteran firefighter with a signature mustache not to choke up when talking about the courage displayed by children who are living with severe disabilities. Or how exciting it is for him to see them laughing and socializing in a camp setting that has been customized to meet their special needs.

“These are just really some great kids and we can certainly give up a weekend or a little loose change to give them a hand,” said Henke.

The International Association of Firefighters will pool the monies collected during Fill the Boot campaigns across the nation. The total —- $21 million last year — will be turned over to Jerry Lewis during the Labor Day Telethon.

In addition to covering the $600 tuition for more than 4,000 children to attend camp, the money helps MDA maintain 230 hospital clinics and 25 medical centers for diagnostic and follow-up care.

Henke said MDA pays for nearly 400 research projects around the world. And 75 cents out of every dollar raised is spent on services.

He said it was incredibly touching for the Hood River City Council to formally dedicate Aug. 5 and 6 of 2006 as “Fill the Boot Days.” To Henke, having that level of support bodes well for the upcoming fund-raiser.

“My dream was to have people in the whole town support MDA. So, to have Mayor Streich proclaim Fill the Boot as an official event was just incredible. It was like a dream come true,” said Henke.

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