On Growing Up with MDA and Helping MDA Grow Up

Joe Akmakjian on his first official day as National Goodwill Ambassador
Joe Akmakjian on his first official day as National Goodwill Ambassador

Like most recent college graduates preparing to enter the “real world,” I was in the throes of the inevitable what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life panic when an unexpected call set me on a new path. In accepting the offer to become the first adult MDA National Goodwill Ambassador, I could stop speculating about what my next life journey will be because, for the first time, it has never been clearer. In becoming the first adult face of the organization, I’m honored to represent the changing demographics and strong community of families and individuals living with neuromuscular diseases.

Over the past 18 years I’ve enjoyed attending and speaking at various events, fundraisers and conferences on behalf of MDA. Admittedly, during my time as an undergraduate at Colorado State University, I made a tough decision to take step back from my involvement with MDA. At the time, as I found myself entering adulthood, I struggled to relate to the organization’s traditional focus on childhood illnesses – which, as my experience attests, are no longer relegated to the youth. I knew that in order for me to experience life like my able-bodied, 20-something peers, I had to look outside the world of MDA. I didn’t want people to view me as a kid who needed help; I wanted to be seen as “normal”, independent and living life my way.

Thankfully, MDA recognizes the growing trend of people learning to navigate the complexities of adulthood with muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and other forms of neuromuscular disease. With the unveiling of MDA’s new brand and Live Unlimited campaign, the organization will have the ability to reach so many more people. I’m confident that this groundbreaking and universal message of empowerment will help the world see people with muscle-debilitating diseases as strong, intelligent and powerfully minded people. Personally, I’m thrilled to be joining a team of pioneering thinkers who genuinely want to ignite positive change throughout this community and beyond.

During my time as the National Goodwill Ambassador, I’m looking forward to traveling the country and meeting as many MDA’s families and clients as possible. I want to hear their thoughts and suggestions about how we as an organization can become the ultimate resource for those we serve. I’m excited to continue building our relationships with current sponsors whose support is paramount to our mission. I also plan to help to forge new connections with leading companies and individuals whose overall brands and lives align with ours. I’m most excited to be able to help MDA engage the younger generation of millennials–my generation. I truly can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for all of us.