Last week, three Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers, partnered with The LiveLikeLou Foundation, volunteered their time providing yard work for Canajoharie residents Dale and Jill Erhardt, Dale having been diagnosed with ALS more than eight years ago.
Director Suzanne Alexander explained that The LiveLikeLou Foundation began as a grassroots effort in Pittsburgh after her husband, Neil, received a fatal ALS diagnosis. The effort went national when the brothers of Phi Delta Theta invited the foundation to engage in a partnership.
“Phi Delta Theta cares about ALS because their brother Lou Gehrig was a Phi Delta Theta,” Alexander said, noting that there are currently 180,000 fraternity brothers across North America devoted to raising ALS awareness and funding, while donating their time to assist ALS families.
Alongside the volunteer work they’ve provided for over 150 ALS-stricken families across North America over the last two years, Phi Delta Theta brothers also raise money while on campus through chapter fundraisers and philanthropy events, bringing in about $2 million across the last two-plus years alone.
The fraternity also provides scholarships for kids of ALS families, along with grants to send them to summer camps across the country.
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” said Alexander, continuing of Phi Delta Theta’s active members and alumni, “These brothers really hate ALS and they really love doing good.”
The LiveLikeLou Foundation’s motto is “Leaving ALS better than we found it,” and the three New York residents (two being current students at Rochester Institute of Technology) traveling to Canajoharie from Middleburgh, Duanesburg and Saratoga Springs on Monday to work at the Erhardt family home exemplified that mission.
The volunteers spent several hours trimming weeds, cleaning up around the property, and rebuilding a rock wall that Dale and his son, Luke, constructed for Jill when Luke was a teenager.
Jill first heard of Phi Delta Theta and The LiveLikeLou Foundation’s pairing this spring on Facebook, as she’s a member of several ALS and frontal-temporal groups. She discovered a post offering volunteers for spring cleanup, thinking it may be a perfect fit, as she explained of annual seasonal work around her property, “I can’t do it myself, and I have to hire somebody when I do it in the spring.”
Upon sending an email to Alexander to inquire whether her family could potentially receive volunteer services, Jill discovered that there were no Phi Delta Theta brothers in the immediate area at the moment.
Months later, at a point when Jill said she nearly forgot about the initial request altogether, “I got a phone call one morning from her [Alexander], and she said ‘I found somebody in your area if you still need some lawn help.’”
By then, the Erhardts’ lawn had been cleaned up, but looking out her bedroom window for potential projects, Jill focused on a stone fence lining the property and everything suddenly clicked into place.
Said Jill of Dale’s initial construction of the wall, “It was his perfect project to do for me, and I figured now, they [Phi Delta Theta] can do it for him,” noting that the wall had fallen almost completely apart over the years, being largely overtaken by weeds.
Said RIT senior and Phi Delta Theta brother Mark Nicolella, of Duanesburg, “All things considered, It’s good to get out and get our hands dirty, especially for a good cause like this.”
Historically speaking, Nicolella pointed out that ALS wasn’t widely discussed until the Ice Bucket Challenge took off a few years ago. Since then, his fraternity “has been able to bring more awareness through that and through different organizations,” the LiveLiveLou Foundation even assisting a Carnegie Mellon University researcher in making a ground-breaking discovery related to the disease.
Said fraternity alumni Patrick Pipino, of Saratoga Springs — owner of a Ben and Jerry’s shop in Syracuse — “Any chance I get to hang out with the young guys and do some good work — that’s a win.”
He continued of Ben and Jerry’s, “Part of our mission as a company is to give back to the community in any way we can, so this serves two purposes.”
“This disease is 100 percent fatal and it’s devastating financially, emotionally and physically, and this is a way these young men can help,” said Alexander of ongoing cleanup projects, adding of the continued important work being done by The LiveLikeLou Foundation in partnership with Phi Delta Theta, “It’s about providing dignity and support to families when they need it the most.”
Jill and Dale were incredibly appreciative of the volunteer work Phi Delta Theta members provided. “It feels nice to have somebody that wants to volunteer and help you, because this is a struggle,” said Jill. “It’s hard to do on your own, so this is like a godsend.”
For more information, to donate, or to discover ways you can assist in the fight against ALS, visit: livelikelou.org.