Different careers, one cause. Meet the Birmingham professionals in the fight against MS

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Everyone fights for someone, whether it’s yourself or a someone you’ve never met. Photo via National MS Society

Construction, law, insurance and more—this group of Birmingham professionals runs the gamut when it comes to careers. One thing they all have in common? They’re all leading the way toward a world free of Multiple Sclerosis. Meet the top fundraisers from the 2020 National MS Society Birmingham Leaders Challenge.

A Movement with a Mission

Bike MS: Tour de Beach is one of NMSS’s annual events. Photo via National MS Society

Nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). With these numbers, it’s fairly likely you’re connected to someone with MS in one way or another.

If you’ve never heard of MS, it’s an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. It mainly affects the central nervous system.

The National MS Society (NMSS) was founded to help those affected by this life-altering disease, whether it be through funding research, centralizing information, providing resources or helping people live well with MS.

  • Their vision: A World Free of MS.
  • Their mission: People affected by MS can live their best lives as we stop MS in its tracks, restore what has been lost and end MS forever.

The Alabama-Mississippi Chapter is headquartered right here in Birmingham. Their 2020 Birmingham Leaders Challenge was quite successful, in spite of the craziness this year has brought. Here are the top fundraisers who made it happen:

Richard Meadows, 2020 Leaders Challenge Chairman

Director in Health & Benefits at Willis Towers Watson

Richard Meadows served as the Chairman for the 2020 Birmingham Leaders Challenge. His connection to the mission is also personal.

“I watched close friends suffer through the loss of family members from the disease. I want to help others not experience the same thing.”

Richard’s best advice for successful fundraising: Show your passion.

Ruby Jackson

Counsel at Southern Power Company

Ruby is a Birmingham native and a former drum major. For her, the fight against MS is personal.

“I was diagnosed with MS in 2011, and I believe in the organization and its commitment to finding a cure.

I have also been a beneficiary of the multitude of resources available through the National MS Society.”

Ruby’s best advice for successful fundraising: Lead your efforts with passion; leverage your network; and see it through!

Whit Woodring

Senior Associate, Corporate Risk & Broking at Willis Towers Watson

Whit has hiked up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, which you may have seen on the North Face logo. Always ready for a challenge, he was an immediate “yes” when asked to join this one.

“I was nominated by a colleague to participate in the fundraising campaign.”

Whit’s best advice for successful fundraising: Don’t be afraid to make the ask. In most cases, people are appreciative of the work you are doing and more than willing to support you.

Jason Bosley

Commercial Insurance Producer/Director at Willis Towers Watson

Jason is a former Auburn offensive lineman, but don’t let that fool you: he admitted he secretly likes Nick Saban. Don’t worry, Jason—we won’t tell.

“I was exposed to MS early in my career, and its devastating effects. I was nominated by a colleague and was so honored to participate!”

Jason’s best advice for successful fundraising: Make it personal, show appreciation and utilize social media—it was a great help!

Brooks Ballentine

Program Management / Director of the East Region at HPM

I love an alliterative name, but for Brooks, it wasn’t a stylistic choice. He goes by his middle name because he shares his first (Charles) with seven other members of his family.

Speaking of family, it’s the reason Brooks got involved with the NMSS to begin with:

“My sister-in-law has been living with MS for several years.”

Brooks’ best advice for successful fundraising: Don’t be hesitant to ask contacts for help and remind everyone what you are trying to accomplish.

Parker Yates

Attorney, Yates Law, LLC

Unless people know Parker from his hometown, most people are surprised to learn he has a twin sister.

“A close friend approached me about the organization, which, at the time, I knew little about. As I learned more, I never looked back, knowing that our fundraising efforts will advance the work they do to advocate for a world free of MS.”

Parker’s best advice for successful fundraising: Put your whole self into it. The more you know about your cause and the work being done, the easier it will be to talk with the people around you about it.

Julie Wall Khoury

Director of External Affairs, Balch & Bingham

Passion must be genetic in Julie’s family. To celebrate her son’s love of baseball, they set a goal to visit every MLB stadium together—and they’re already well on their way.

“I was nominated by a colleague to participate and remain inspired by the progress scientists have made in recent years.

It’s exciting to know that we are closer to a cure and have identified ways to prevent MS and reverse its course. I am honored to have the opportunity to help support this important work.”

Julie’s best advice for successful fundraising: Talk about causes that are important to you with just about anyone you meet.  You never know who might have interest in learning more or supporting the mission.

Neil Caudle

Senior Project Manager at Brasfield & Gorrie

If Neil can manage to find time to fundraise, anyone can. His hands are pretty full at home—two of his three kids (soon to be four) are twins.

“I was nominated by my boss, whose wife has been living with MS for many years. I also had a co-worker who lived with MS.”

Neil’s best advice for successful fundraising: The best way to fundraise is to show your passion and care for that cause, in whatever way possible.

Nancy Ball

Partner Attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Nancy wasn’t always a Partner Attorney—she grew up in a small town in rural Mississippi where everyone knew each other’s names and family histories. That love for community carried over into her work with NMSS.

“I admire the National MS Society’s dynamic approach to addressing the issues faced by those who live with MS and also helping to find a cure.”

Nancy’s best advice for successful fundraising: Become engaged in a cause you care about because if you don’t do it, you can’t assume that someone else will.

Drake Babis

Project Manager at Rives Construction Company

When he’s not managing a new construction project or fundraising for an important cause, Drake loves to fish for redfish and trout in Tampa Bay. Looks like those “reel ’em in” skills carried over to potential donors.

“A coworker told me about his involvement with the MS Society’s Leaders Challenge and how impactful it was to him. I was nominated by that same coworker and was grateful to participate.”

Drake’s best advice for successful fundraising: Work to understand as much as you can about the cause you care about. It will deepen your passion and grow your enthusiasm.

Claiborne Morris

Senior Manager in Tax & Transaction Advisory at Warren Averett, LLC

Claiborne spilled a big secret in his interview: he secretly loves doing yard work. He did ask that we don’t tell his wife, so let’s hope she doesn’t read this article.

“After hearing someone talk about the disease, it was eye-opening to see just how many people are affected. 

I think the National MS Society is a great resource to increase research in order to defeat the disease once and for all.”

Claiborne’s best advice for successful fundraising: Try to make your message personal and follow up with individuals that have donated to show your appreciation.

Want to be a part of this incredible mission for yourself? Donate to the Birmingham Leaders Challenge here.

Stay tuned to Bham Now to get to know the 2020 top fundraiser, Thomas Spencer. His story is one you’re not going to want to miss!

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  • A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.