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Newington Resident Recognized For 20 Years Of Dedicated Service
By Brendan Nohelty, Public Relations Intern

NEWINGTON, Conn. Described by her co-workers as loyal, passionate, and very dedicated, Susan Raimondo, Community Programs Director, is celebrating her 20th anniversary with the National MS Society, Greater Connecticut Chapter. Raimondo, who began volunteer work with the chapter in May 1987, was hired as a full-time employee on July 20,1987.

"I am very proud of the Greater Connecticut Chapter and its accomplishments over the past 20 years," said Raimondo, a native of Hartford and now a long-time resident of Newington. "We have consistently moved to improve our ability to assist and provide quality services for families facing multiple sclerosis."

Susan and Tom RaimondoRaimondo’s initial reasons for teaming up with the National MS Society exceeded the need for a job or the pursuit of career goals. Her personal connection to multiple sclerosis played an influential role. Raimondo’s mother battled the effects of MS for many years eventually losing the fight in 1999. In 1989, Raimondo, who helped coordinate the chapter’s annual MS Vacation Week, a weeklong getaway for those living with MS, met Tom Raimondo, who in 1988 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The pair, as Raimondo describes it, experienced a "phenomenally magical week," together sharing both tears and laughter as they grew closer and learned more about one another.

At the time, Tom Raimondo worked as an engineer in Springfield, Mass. The couple carried on a long-distance relationship for the next eight months until Valentines Day 1990 when Tom, with some difficulty, dropped to one knee before Raimondo and popped the question. They married in May 1991. The years as husband and wife have been rich but also challenging. Tom’s condition has worsened. Today, he needs assistance with just about any undertaking.

"She means everything to me," whispered Tom, barely audible but eager to comment on the love of his life. "Susan is sweet and thoughtful. She is always looking for ways to make my life better. She is there for me in every way. She is a treasure my treasure."

At just 43, Tom Raimondo is dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. At times he can barely speak another effect of his disease. And, at times, Tom finds himself in a hospital bed surrounded by state-of-the art technology and well-trained staff working together to mount an attack on the latest chronic symptoms threatening his life and wellbeing. Raimondo experiences first hand the baffling, relentless and unpredictable effects of multiple sclerosis. The fight is personal. She herself is on the front lines with no time outs. The connection Raimondo has to the disease uniquely prepares her professionally to serve with sincere compassion and a thorough understanding of the daily challenges faced by clients and their families.

"I have known Susan since she first began working with the chapter," said Pat August, who was diagnosed with MS 37 years ago and who, for years, served as a chapter volunteer. "Susan has dedicated her life, both professionally and personally, to the fight against multiple sclerosis. I admire her strength. It’s not easy to deal with the devastating effects of this disease day after day. Susan, however, has, and she has done it most admirably. She deserves a badge of courage."

When Raimondo, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in psychology, sociology and pre-social work from Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., in 1987, first started working at the National MS Society, she served as editor-in-chief of the chapter newsletter, GEMS. However, in those days she did not use a computer to type up the newsletter, but instead had to use a typewriter. She says that the technological advances within her 20 years at the chapter have played a huge role in our ability to effectively and efficiently promote awareness and provide services.

According to Raimondo, in those early years when she first joined the chapter, it was very difficult for doctors to diagnose multiple sclerosis. She said in Connecticut 20 years ago, there were only about one or two Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) systems, advanced technology often used to diagnose MS in patients.

"There weren’t medications and medical technology was limited," remembered Raimondo. "Today, there are numerous MRI systems throughout the state, six medications available, as well as other treatments and supports for those affected with multiple sclerosis."

In addition to limited medical technology, 20 years ago, manpower was limited too. In 1987, the chapter was much smaller and narrow in scope. Staff retention was also an issue. Within her first seven years with the chapter, there were five different directors.

"Susan is a strong motivator with great passion," said George Ducharme, who hired Raimondo 20 years ago when the chapter numbered only three. "Over the years executive directors have come and gone, but Susan has stayed because she knows she is changing lives. Today, through her advocacy efforts, she is assisting more than just one person at a time she is influencing significant changes affecting thousands."

Since Raimondo first joined, the chapter has seen approximately 10 executive directors and presidents come and go. The three colleagues with whom she first began working have all since left, and the chapter has now expanded to staff approximately 23 professionals all of whom work in collaboration with the society to create a world free of multiple sclerosis.

"Susan’s outstanding leadership and devotion has helped the chapter become what it is today," said Lisa Gerrol, who has served as chapter president since 1994. "It is a delight and a privilege to work with Susan. No one is more devoted to the mission and work of the National MS Society than she."

Raimondo has held multiple positions and fulfilled many different roles since first joining the chapter. Since 2000, Raimondo has served as Community Programs Director. In this capacity, she is responsible for community programs ranging from education, health, recreation and advocacy for persons with MS, their families, professionals, and the general public. From 1991 to 2000, she served as Chapter Services Director, where she was responsible for administrative activities of the programs department. This included responsibility for the development and implementation of programs related to multiple sclerosis in the chapter territory for individuals, families, professionals, and the community. Raimondo served as Chapter Services Coordinator from 1988 to 1991, and Chapter Services Assistant from 1987 to 1988.

Raimondo’s grit and determination has made an indelible mark on the chapter and on the lives of every person with whom she interacts. For the past three years, Raimondo’s has worked tirelessly to lobby for a state funded pilot program for people with disabilities aged 18 to 64. Now passed, the program provides the same homecare services for up to 50 people with disabilities ages 18 to 64 as the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders (CHCPE) state-funded portion provides to people 65 and older. Raimondo also continually strives to create more options to serve those with MS. According to Raimondo, we need to continue to work toward improving quality of life for those battling the effects of progressive MS, like her husband.

"Ultimately, I know there will be a cure," said Raimondo to a crowd of more than 40 guests and colleagues gathered Aug. 9 to recognize and celebrate her 20 years of service. "In the meantime, I know why you are here, and I know why I am here. We’re here to make life better for people with multiple sclerosis."

Although Raimondo does not intend to retire anytime soon, when asked how she hoped to be remembered by her colleagues and those she serves, she said, "I hope to be remembered as a passionate person who was a great advocate for those impacted by MS."

The past 20 years are filled with many successes for both Raimondo and the chapter. However, according to Raimondo, the most memorable moments are the relationships made with colleagues, people with MS, and their families. For Raimondo, the 20-year milestone is an opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments and also an opportunity to look ahead to the future.

"Twenty years may be a long time for one person to work with a single organization; however, it is just a stepping-stone in a long and important journey to find better treatments and a cure," said Raimondo as she excuses herself with a gesture and lifts the receiver of a ringing phone. "National MS Society. This is Susan. How can I help you?"

Brendan Nohelty, a native of Manchester, Conn., is currently a junior majoring in communications at the University of Connecticut, located in Storrs, Conn.

8/21/07

PHOTO CUTLINE: Susan and Tom Raimondo celebrate Susan’s 20 years of dedication to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

NOTE TO MEDIA

For more information, contact:
Melissa A. Saranitzky
Communications Coordinator
E-mail: msaranitzky@ctfightsMS.org
Phone: 860.714.2300, ext. 239

 

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