This year, MDA is celebrating 30 years of partnering with CITGO Petroleum Corp. to help save and improve the lives of kids and adults – and the families who love them – living with muscular dystrophy, ALS and related muscle-debilitating diseases.
Throughout those 30 years, CITGO has made a difference in the lives of so many, including Lauren Carter, MDA’s 2000 National Goodwill Ambassador. Lauren is a familiar face to many. During her term, she appeared on the MDA telethon and traveled across the country to attend MDA-sponsored events and MDA families.
“It was a wonderful experience,” recalls Lauren. “I loved traveling and meeting so many people. It was great to share my story of how MDA helped my family.”
When Lauren was 2 years old, she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA),
a genetic disease affecting the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Lauren’s parents, Ken and Traci Carter, sought out MDA for guidance and community.
“When I was first diagnosed, my mom was trying to find support and learn as much as she could about the disease and my options,” Lauren explains. “MDA became a big support system for our family. We became very involved because we felt it was a way that we could not only receive support but also give back.”
One of the most important ways MDA supported Lauren over the years was through MDA Summer Camp, she says. “If I had it my way, every kid would get to go. It’s a chance to get out of your comfort zone, learn new things and make new friends. Then, you get to go home and share your summer camp stories just like all the other kids.”
While serving as MDA National Goodwill Ambassador in 2000, Lauren and her family spent time with many national corporate partners, including CITGO, which has since played a significant role in her life and her dad’s life. Soon after Lauren’s term as ambassador ended, her father accepted a position with CITGO. And, though she didn’t know it at the time, the confidence she built and life skills and independence she learned at camp would come in handy when she earned an opportunity to work for CITGO as well.
Living unlimited at college
Lauren’s support system and her MDA Summer Camp family helped prepare her for what she considers one of her biggest live unlimited moments: attending college independently. Throughout high school, Lauren had a personal care assistant to help her with anything she needed, from getting something out of her backpack to opening her locker.
“I was very fortunate to have parents that did anything and everything to make sure I had the most amazing life,” Lauren explains. “I was never the girl in the wheelchair. I was just the girl who had a wheelchair, and I grew up believing that I could do and accomplish anything I wanted as long as I worked hard enough. In high school, I didn’t want to rely on classmates to help me, so I did have a personal aide. But when it was time to go to college, I decided I would try to do it without assistance,” Lauren explains. “I wanted to do as much as I could on my own, and it was amazing!”
Lauren attended the University of Houston, where she majored in public relations and graduated in May 2013.
“I didn’t drive to class, which was a personal choice because Texas drivers are crazy,” she laughs. “But once I got to campus, I felt like every other college student. I carried my books and went to class. I got coffee with my friends. It gave me a sense of independence like I had never experienced before — a feeling like I could conquer this on my own. It was exciting to do whatever I wanted and needed to do!”
Lauren had a similar experience when she traveled to Paris in 2009 with her family. “Everything was so fantastic. The people were so accommodating, and it gave me so much hope for the future that if I want to travel more, I can.”
Life after college
Lauren’s hope for the future was reaffirmed after graduating from college and landing a role as a member of the CITGO corporate communications team, where she supports a variety of programs and initiatives, including social media engagement.
It was an ideal situation, she says, to be offered “a job with a company that had been so much a part of my life,” Lauren recalls. “It was a chance to give back to them and contribute all that I’ve learned [at college].”
She continues, “When you’re in school, you hope that you’ll find that perfect job that excites you and allows you to use the skills you learned throughout college,” she says. “My job at CITGO is that and so much more. I feel very lucky to be where I’m at.”
CITGO has allowed Lauren to realize her dream of pursuing a career she loves and to live unlimited in her professional life. It’s a commitment to MDA families that stretches back 30 years. Since 1986, CITGO employees, marketers and retailers have raised more than $195 million to help support MDA’s efforts to find research breakthroughs across diseases, to care for children and adults rom day one at MDA Care Centers, and to empower families with services and support, including summer camp for kids and support groups.
When asked about what advice she would give to help others live unlimited, Lauren shared, “Don’t compare yourself — everyone is an amazing individual, so focus on what you want and go after it. It’s easy, especially in the age of social media, to get caught up in everyone else’s world, but focus on you and what you want and just go after it. We all have a story to tell, and each story is what makes this world so beautiful.”