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AOII: Celebrating 50 Years as a “Champion of Yes”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Arthritis Foundation’s partnership with Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII) women’s fraternity. AOII’s unwavering commitment has helped the foundation serve millions of adults and children with arthritis through research, advocacy and community-based programs.

“We are so honored and proud to partner with such a worthy organization,” says Gayle Fitzpatrick, AOII’s International President. “For 50 years, we’ve stayed committed to the Foundation’s cause; raising money and providing hands-on support for camps, community initiatives and fundraising events.”

Community service is one of AOII’s founding principles. They adopted the Arthritis Foundation as its international philanthropy in 1967 because of shared values. The women’s fraternity chose to focus on arthritis because of its devastating impact on millions of lives and the disproportionate impact on women and girls.  Additionally, AOII recognized a dire need in the medical community for continued research. Funds for arthritis-related clinical studies were scarce and the development of new treatments and ultimately a cure needed more financial support.

AOII awarded its first two arthritis-related grants to pioneering women in rheumatology in 1968 and 1969; $5,000 to Dr. Naomi Rothfield, Chief of Rheumatology at the University of Connecticut for lupus research; and $6,000 to Dr. Gail Ann Theis, instructor and post-doctoral fellow in immunology from New York University. Those early donations would equate to roughly $80,000 dollars in today’s economy. In the 1960s, it was enough to help kick start research that would spur medical breakthroughs for years to come.

Since then, AOII has raised several millions for research, education and community engagement programs, with a special focus on juvenile arthritis camps, Conferences and the Power Packs (a bag of resources and gifts for kids and parents). Existing and alumnae chapters support the foundation’s efforts through different avenues; including participating in national events like Walk to Cure Arthritis and Jingle Bell Run, volunteering as JA camp counselors, handing out toy pandas at juvenile arthritis conferences, promoting awareness and hosting Strike Out Arthritis! events. Strike Out Arthritis!, which began in 2010, is one of AOII’s most successful fundraisers and is two-pronged. Local chapters host their own sporting events, or they partner with their city’s Major League Baseball team, which donates a portion of special ticket sales to the foundation.  So far, all 30 MLB teams have participated in at least one Strike Out Arthritis! event.

Chapters keep members engaged by bringing in families and children from their own community to speak about their struggles with the disease. By putting a face on the challenges of living with arthritis for so many, young and old, it motivates members to step up their involvement and stay committed to fundraising, says Mariellen Sasseen, AOII’s Director of Communications. This is a cyclical process, too, she says. Sasseen says many members pledge because they have been touched by AOII’s efforts as children, either at JA camps or conferences, and want to give back in the same way.

Though 2017 is one of their biggest fundraising years yet, with contributions nearing $750,000 and counting, Sasseen thinks it’s a sign of even bigger things to come. “AOII has always been dedicated to the Arthritis Foundation and its cause, but with newer campaigns like Strike Out Arthritis! and increased participation in events like Walk and Jingle Bell Run, we’re tapping into an even greater potential,” she says. “The relationship between our organization and the Arthritis Foundation is only going to get stronger.”

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