Thoughts About Giving

Improving Lives Benefit

MSAA Honors Inspirational Advocates

By Rebecca Mooney
MSAA Vice President of Development

MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit, “Together Again” will be held at the beautiful Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia on May 3rd, and for MSAA’s friends and family across the country, we will gather again at our “Together at Home” virtual reception on May 18th. These exciting events will recognize Selma Blair as our Mission Honoree and Polar Products as our Corporate Honoree. Both events will be hosted by our friend and MS community inspiration, Tyler Campbell.

MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit Mission Honoree: Selma Blair

The world was first introduced to Selma Blair on the big screen – perhaps it was from the movie Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, or the Hellboy franchise. For MSAA, we were first introduced to Selma as a client in 2019, after her diagnosis in August 2018. Similar to many people living with multiple sclerosis, Selma had a daunting road to diagnosis.

Selma Blair, photo: Brian Bowen Smith For much of her life, Selma dealt with trigeminal neuralgia, thought by doctors to be caused by dental issues. In addition, over the years she lived with vision loss, balance issues, temporary paralysis, muscle spasms, and extreme fatigue. For Selma, she describes the diagnosis as, “ …almost a relief. I finally knew that everything I had been experiencing was real, and I could start to trust myself again.”

“In the beginning, at the start of engaging with MS in a public way, I met the incredible Gina Ross Murdoch with MSAA and I was heartened. While I was compelled to find speedy answers, this was an organization for MS that was truly active in improving lives of people adjusting to MS, in profoundly simple, moving, generous ways. That meeting, and what MSAA offers like the MRI program, stayed with me. I am genuine in my appreciation of MSAA and so proud to have joined forces here.”

Selma Blair – Actress, MS advocate, New York Times Best-Selling Author, mom, and longtime supporter and friend of MSAA
photo credit: Brian Bowen Smith

When Selma met Gina Ross Murdoch, President and CEO of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, she was surprised to learn that there were things she could do to relieve some of the symptoms she dealt with each day. One in particular was heat sensitivity. An avid horseback rider, and mom of a young boy, Selma struggled to manage in the heat – causing vertigo, dizziness, and even passing out – all of which had a serious impact on her life. When she learned about MSAA’s cooling program, she reached out to Polar Products and their cooling vest was a game changer.

Also during that initial meeting with MSAA, the guidance she received included learning about the need for a strong support network. Selma says, “I didn’t really understand support until I met MSAA.”

Since that meeting in 2019, Selma has worked to share her personal journey in a variety of ways. Her Instagram provides a view of her life and has opened the doors for her to connect with others, both as an inspiration and to draw support. Additionally, in her 2021 documentary, Introducing, Selma Blair, she shares an intimate and raw portrait of her personal journey with MS. Selma has become a staunch advocate for those living with MS, as well as the disability community as a whole, using her status as a well-known actress to draw attention to work that still needs to be done.

Through her partnerships with Guide Beauty, Google, and QVC, who recently named her their first-ever Brand Ambassador for Accessibility, Selma has advocated for disability inclusion and accessibility for all. She has also been steadfast in spreading the word about MSAA. Selma works diligently to ensure that everyone living with MS knows where they can find assistance. She ensured MSAA was listed as the key resource and source of support at the end of her documentary. In addition, she has hosted two Instagram takeover events, where she took over MSAA’s Instagram account for a day and shared information about her experiences with MS as well as MSAA’s resources with her large following – driving traffic to MSAA’s website and resources.

Each year, MSAA looks for a Mission Honoree who has been generous in sharing their own MS story in support of others living with the challenges of MS. MSAA seeks someone who has inspired and humbled
us with their strength and their openness. Selma fit the bill for all that and more.

“With Selma’s substantial efforts around advocacy as part of the MS and disability communities, the timing seemed perfect,” Gina Ross Murdoch said. “She is not afraid to lean into her triumphs and her struggles with equal intensity. She is the epitome of an ‘advocate’ and an ideal choice for MSAA’s Mission Honoree.”

Dancing with the Stars

Selma appeared as a contestant in the 2022 season of Dancing with the Stars, and ultimately left because of the impact the experience was having on her body. Selma said, “I was getting stress fractures throughout my body, and because of the MS, I couldn’t tell so they kept getting worse.”

Her work on Dancing with the Stars and in so many other ways introduced the subject and struggles of MS to the general public. Selma worked closely with her dance partner, Sasha Farber, to overcome some of her challenges related to MS — for example, they never led with her left foot. Although Selma did not see herself as a very good dancer, leaning on her partner Sasha, along with the adrenaline from the experience, pushed her through… and she loved every moment.

MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit Corporate Honoree: Polar Products

In the 1990s, MSAA pioneered the scientific research of cooling technology for MS symptom management. Partnering with NASA engineers and researchers at several top MS centers, results from MSAA-funded studies proved the beneficial effects of temporarily cooling the body for people with MS. As a result of these vital findings, MSAA’s Cooling Distribution Program was born in 2003. Since its inception, this program has been providing cooling vests and accessories to people with MS, helping to reduce symptoms and alleviate the effects of heat sensitivity.

Polar Products - Jacob and Erin Graessle photo

Polar Products

President and CEO Jacob Graessle and his wife, Erin,
representing their company, Polar Products, which has
proudly partnered with MSAA for 20 years

To meet the needs of the MS community, MSAA reached out to a variety of companies marketing wearable cooling technology, and thus began a 20-year partnership with Polar Products. Last year alone, MSAA provided nearly 1,500 cooling products to clients in need.

Each year MSAA works to recognize a single corporation for their work in making a difference in the lives of those impacted by MS, and in 2023, Polar Products was the obvious choice. Beyond serving as a key partner for two decades since the inception of MSAA’s Cooling Program, the team at Polar has always gone above and beyond to serve the MS community. A small, family-run business, the relationship with MSAA began through Bill Graessle, affectionately known as “Polar Bill,” and has continued with his son, CEO Jacob Graessle.

MSAA has also worked closely with Fundación de Esclerosis Múltiple de Puerto Rico (the Puerto Rico Multiple Sclerosis Foundation) for several years, ensuring that clients in need can access our key services. Puerto Rico has suffered the compounded effects of multiple disasters in recent years, including the devastating impacts of two hurricanes in 2017, a major earthquake in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as economic challenges. In 2022, when clients in Puerto Rico were dealing with an increased need for cooling equipment, MSAA put out a call to our cooling vendors to help ensure that need was met. Polar Products stepped up with a sizable donation, and the MS Foundation in Puerto Rico (MSAA’s 2020 Mission Honoree) worked to hand deliver vests across the island for clients with limited ability to travel.

“The MS community is an integral part of the Polar Products family, and we are proud of our 20-year partnership with MSAA supporting the needs of those members of the MS community whose quality of life could be significantly improved with the help of our unique line of cooling products,” explains Polar Products CEO Jacob Graessle. “We are thankful to be featured in the 2023 Improving Lives Benefit, and are steadfast in our commitment to working together to improve lives of those living with MS.”

MSAA is grateful for our strong partnership and look forward to continuing our work with Polar Products and the Graessle family. We are proud to recognize them as the 2023 Corporate Honoree.