The USD Changemaker Hub, part of USD’s efforts to promote its designation as an AshokaU Changemaker Campus, posed the above question on its Facebook page for a student contest recognizing Feb. 29, officially “leap day,” as a bonus day to make a difference. To win the $150 prize, entrants provided a 50-word-or-less answer and their idea then had to receive the most “likes.”
The question garnered many well-intended responses and University of San Diego freshman Danielle Winkle emerged as the winner with this post: “I would use the $150 to bring awareness to those with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) because I had a close family friend diagnosed. Many people aren’t aware of how serious the disease is and how it changes the lives of family members and friends.”
The family friend is Barry Turner, a veteran boys’ varsity soccer head coach at Santa Ana (Calif.) Foothill High School, a teacher and director of the SoCal Infinity club soccer program. Winkle’s brother, Andrew, has played for Turner’s club team for a few years. Turner, diagnosed with ALS just a few months ago, is married and has two children, a son who is a junior at Foothill and plays soccer and a daughter who is in the fourth grade.
ALS is an autoimmune degenerative disease that attacks the nerves cells of the voluntary muscles, eventually leading to paralysis and death. The survival timeframe is between six months and 10 years, but the average expectancy is 2-3 years. ALS affects approximately 1 in 20,000 people and there’s not a cure.
Turner is coaching and teaching for as long as he is able, but his physical condition is deteriorating quickly, according to a Barry Turner Foundation website. “His left arm does not function, his legs are getting weaker and his right arm is weakening rapidly. He’ll eventually need a wheelchair so that he can be more mobile, take the strain off his legs and prevent falling since his balance has been affected.”
Winkle said medical bills are mounting for Turner and his family. The Orange County community has stepped up with fundraising events to contribute to the 501c3 tax-deductible foundation. Winkle’s $150 contribution from the USD contest, she said, is likely going toward purchasing the wheelchair.
Winkle, who is from Villa Park, Calif., is a new student at USD, but it’s evident that each day for her is an opportunity to help another person, increase awareness, educate and, perhaps, inspire them to follow her lead.
“I’m very passionate about giving back to the community and I love getting the fire started in everyone’s hearts,” she said.
The USD Changemaker Leap Day contest demonstrated this perfectly. She swiftly spread word of her contest entry to family, friends and USD students, including new sisters in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority she joined in late January.
“I really like the community here,” Winkle said. “It feels really good knowing I have 200 other girls who are ready to support me. They barely know me, but they want to donate and help a person they don’t even know.”
Winkle’s positive attitude and determination shows up in everything she’s taken on since arriving at USD in August.
Winkle’s academic interests include biology and psychology, but she’s also involved in Homeless San Diego, Dive Club, Adventure Club, Marine Science Club and Psychology Club. Her sorority’s philanthropy focus is breast cancer awareness. She’s continued a connection with Linda Vista’s Montgomery Middle School as a Homework Club tutor after taking Sociology Professor John Joe Schlichtman’s Contemporary Social Issues: Community, Urbanization, and Culture class last fall. Winkle has already committed to a month-long service immersion trip to South Africa through the Yorba Linda, Calif.-based International Student Volunteers.
“I like to stay busy,” Winkle said. “It’s great starting things my freshman year here because I really like getting involved and to be a part of seeing something grow.”
She’s going home to Orange County this weekend and she plans to visit Turner and his family, bringing with her a plate of chocolate chip cookies she bakes as well as news of the $150 donation.
“Every little bit helps,” she said.
— Ryan T. Blystone