River Grove fourth-grader Claire Sarnowski supporting annual MS Walk

by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - River Grove fourth-grader Claire Sarnowski is a major fundraising leader for the MS Walk in Portland, which supports research for people with multiple sclerosis.Most kids haven’t been supporting a particular group since age 3 — and even fewer, at age 9, are a top-notch supporter of a major state fundraiser for a national organization supporting scientific research.

But, Claire Sarnowski is not like most kids.

The Lake Oswego girl is in her sixth year of collecting dollars for the yearly 5K fundraiser that the Oregon chapter of Walk MS holds in Portland, this year on April 19. The River Grove Elementary School fourth-grader pounds the pavement and sells greeting cards and friendship bracelets to bring in dollars for Walk MS, and for the first time, she is holding a coin drive at her school through April 18. River Grove students are bringing in loose change, and they can participate in activities with an MS-in-a-box kit, putting lots of marshmallows in their mouths all at once, wearing weights or walking with flippers to see what it’s like to have MS, a neurological REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Claire Sarnowski, 9, of Lake Oswego, as of Monday, had raised $4,465 out of her goal of $5,000 for MS Walk in Portland.

Claire right now is the top fundraiser for the state MS Walk. As of Wednesday, she’d almost reached her goal of $5,000 with contributions of $4,835. If she reaches that milestone, she plans to push forward her goal to $6,000. Last year, Claire’s campaign raised $5,310. Walk MS participants collect $250 on average.

The walk Claire is supporting is one of many nationwide that are organized by chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which uses donations to further MS research, professional education and programs and services for people with MS. There are treatments but no cure. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide, according to the National MS Society’s website.

“That is something that makes me very upset inside because too many people have it,” Claire REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Claire Sarnowski said her mother, Carol Sarnowski, who has multiple sclerosis, is her inspiration and one of many reasons she supports MS Walk so fervently.

Walk MS events not only are fundraisers but also serve National MS Society’s desire to raise awareness about the disease and get people moving because MS limits movement. The disease can cause symptoms such as blindness, paralysis, reduced or lost mobility, numbness and tingling. MS is a disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body.

“Some people might realize what MS is, but they may not realize the extreme effects,” said Claire, who wants to be a doctor of internal medicine.

To help show people, Claire created graphs, charts and a clay brain with lesions on it like a person with MS would have. She also holds up a portion of an orange extension cord, revealing the inner layers to demonstrate how MS erodes the protective coating on the nerves and scars the brain.

When she was little, Claire’s parents took her with them to Walk MS, rolling her along in a stroller. In preschool, she participated in a fundraiser for a teacher’s assistant with MS and came to know more and more people who struggled with the disease.

Claire’s mom, Carol Sarnowski, was diagnosed with MS 19 years ago, and she said her daughter’s charm and ingenuity balance out what some might see as an age disadvantage.

“A lot of the people who fundraise for MS are my age,” said Sarnowski, 44. “They’re adults. They have employers who match funds; their circle of friends is different.”

Sarnowski added that her daughter does not fundraise just for her.

“I feel like my mom is my inspiration but also, just when I was little, I saw the world the way my mom saw the world because I was with her all the time,” Claire said.

For Claire, she also fights for a cure out of a sense of fairness, that everyone is equal and should be treated well and have a good life, something she said she realized a few years ago.

“Everyone’s the same,” she said.
By Jillian Daley
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