Heroes by permanent marker
In December 2009, PLU students, and co-founders of the Progress Club, Harold Leraas and Andrew McGuiness on behalf of the club accepted the 2009 Hero Award from the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Wash.
The co-founders of the PLU club said the efforts by the members of Progress have raised more than $13,000 for the children’s hospital’s Free Care Fund, which helps pay for care for uninsured children.
Leraas and McGuinness took some time to share how Progress came to be, what it’s done and where the organization is going.
Andrew and I founded Progress the Spring of our Sophomore year (2008). We based the group on the idea that children should not be held responsible for their parent’s economic status, and therefore should be granted medical care regardless of their family’s means to pay for it.
Something that was important in this process was realizing that this was a heavy issue and that college students weren’t the most affluent source of donors. Because of this reality, we shaped our group’s activity on small donations that would engage our fellow students and activities that were appealing. That is the nature of both the “Sign Me!” Drive and “Save it or Shave it!” (editor’s note: the ‘Sign Me’ Drive has become an annual fundraiser on campus, were club members are drawn-on by Sharpie markers in exchange for donations. More than $3,200 was raised at this past fall’s event).
When we founded the group, we knew that fundraising wasn’t enough, that education was a big part of seeing a change. That has been our motivation for our educational events which included a professor panel on the healthcare proposals by the presidential primary candidates (McCain, Clinton, and Obama), our screening of “Sicko” by Michael Moore, and our recent debate on healthcare reform with the PLU Democrats and Republicans.
We, as well as our members, are very proud of our involvement with the club and the groups success. Progress is definitely a group that has fun while doing something important, and that is something that we hope our members bring to their respective careers after they leave college.
– Harold Leraas
Q & A with Leraas and McGuinness
To you, what does it mean to be recognized with the 2009 Hero Award from Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital?
Leraas: This is a real honor. It’s very encouraging to have someone recognize the passion that we share as a group. It’s also very humbling to receive such an award considering that there are hundreds of people who donate to Mary Bridge every year. It really strengthened our passion as a group, and I think that it was a great way to get some of our younger members started with the club.
McGuinness: Mary Bridge has been so incredibly supportive of our club – beyond Harold’s or my wildest dream of the reception this club would receive. This award has helped our members and the PLU community who sustains us truly feel appreciated, and it helps us know that there is a great need for the work we do. We have been enormously humbled by how great of an impact our meager contributions make, and we would hope that this recognition only furthers our ability to support children’s access to health care.
How much money did you raise for the Free Care Fund and what kind of impact does that make (including raising awareness)?
Leraas: So far, we’ve raised over $13,000 for the Free Care Fund. Seeing as most of our donations are at the level of $1, we see this as a very large impact at PLU. During the last “Sign-Me!” Drive we raised over $3,200 and there are about 3,500 students at PLU. I see that as a pretty strong indicator of the kind of impact we are having on campus and how receptive the university community has been to our cause and message.
McGuinness: Since Progress’ inception, the group has raised over $13,000. This certainly makes an appreciable difference for local families facing daunting medical bills, especially in our current economy. At the same time, I like to think that our greatest contribution to children’s healthcare is through our emphasis on $1, interactive donations. This philosophy ensures that for every $1000 dollars we raise, we’ve ideally involved 1000 people within the PLU community. The interactive effort means that the individual becomes involved in the process of donating, rather than just dropping a dollar in a can. This the donor is more likely to reflect on the act of donating and what it means to them – why they want to support children’s healthcare. Coupled with our outreach and awareness events, this helps foster community support for universal healthcare for children.
In what ways have you seen the Progress Club grow since it started, in mission and activism?
Leraas: One area that we’ve really grown in is our activism. We came to the conclusion that raising money is one thing, but we wanted to have more of an activist stance. Since then we have been hosting educational events that have been really important in educating the university community about health care. Most recently, we hosted a debate on healthcare reform between the PLU Democrats and the PLU College Republicans. We had a great turnout and everybody really learned a lot even though we were barely able to scratch the surface on some of the issues.
McGuinness: Above all, I have been most impressed with the way Progress’ role on campus has changed. Initially, it was a bit of a struggle to get support for the club’s unconventional methods. We were unheard of, and the community didn’t know what to think. Now, people recognize us as soon as we ask for money, or advertise a panel we’re hosting. They say, “Hey you’re that group that does the ‘Sign Me’ drive for Mary Bridge!” They know us and our mission immediately and are jump to the occasion to help us out. It is truly this sense on belonging and exposure within the PLU community that has been responsible for our growth; our yearly fundraisers have nearly doubled their totals each year, and our membership and involvement has been constantly growing.
What do you hope happens with the Progress Club?
Leraas: I hope that Progress keeps doing what its doing. Every year we have grown in numbers and success, and I really hope that trend continues. I hope that our members keep their passion for the issues that bring them to our meetings and also continue to help children in need of medical care.
I would say though that in an ideal world, Progress wouldn’t have to exist. I hope that our members recognize this and work together to help create a change in health care. In the spring one of our goals is to have some sort of interaction with legislative officials, and I hope to see this really take off as a large function of our club.
McGuinness: From the beginning, Harold and I envisioned Progress as a sustainable fixture at PLU – a permanent way from PLU to positively impact the community around it. To ensure longevity of the club we have made recruitment an essential focus of Progress at the start of both semesters, with a focus on bringing in younger members. Additionally, we have a rule in our constitution that seniors cannot be officers during their spring semester, preferably during the fall as well. This makes sure that veterans with fundraising and organizing experience are there to guide the next generation of leadership and help them better design the group’s activities. Hopefully this sustainability will no longer be necessary in the future with the right kind of reform, but as it stands our local community is in desperate need of resources to provided children with the care they need, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.
What’s next for both of you?
Leraas: Andrew and I are both currently applying to medical schools all across the country. I was fortunate enough to have an interview last week with George Washington University in Washington D.C. and Andrew will be interview with Washington University in St. Louis in January. We’re both really excited about what the future holds for us in medicine, but I think it’s safe to say that we will always miss the great experience that we’ve had at PLU.
McGuinness: I am in the process of applying to medical school right now. I have a passion for international public health, and hope to one day bring high quality healthcare to those most in need in our world. With strong aspirations to impact the global community, I wanted to be involved in Progress from the get go to make sure I can also give back to the community that has given me so much privilege in life.
– This report was compiled by Doorways Editor Chris Albert.