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News : Health Mar 9, 2012 - 11:31 AM

We’re all on a journey

By Karen E. Butler, National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter

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At a recent lunch meeting at the Red Robin restaurant in Enfield, Melissa Dopp and Donna Ellis get together to plan a fundraiser for MS. Dopp serves on the local Walk MS planning committee and Ellis is a marketing coordinator at the Red Robin Gourmet Burger restaurant. Dopp’s Red Robin Benefit for MS will be held May 24 at the Red Robin in Enfield. Proceeds benefit the Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, which will be held Sunday, April 22, at 12 walk sites across Connecticut, including JFK Middle School in Enfield.
ENFIELD, CT - Melissa Dopp has a lot for which to be thankful. Her family is, for the most part, happy and healthy. Now retired, she and her husband, Jim, live comfortably in the charming town of Enfield, which is surrounded by rolling farmland and quaint New England homes.

Although life is good these days, Dopp remembers a time when life was challenging. She had completed a tour with the U.S. Marines Corp. when she found herself a divorced mother of two children. Money was tight. In fact, for a time the family lived in low income housing. Still, Dopp was never one to complain. Perhaps it was the pride and self-worth she developed from her military experience, but even in the worst of times, Dopp was determined to champion another’s cause over her own.

In 1987, in the midst of her own personal struggle, Dopp was asked to join a Walk MS team. She had an uncle living in Springfield, Mass., who battled primary progressive MS, an aggressive form of the disease. Hoping to honor his fight, Dopp joined the team, and for about five years, walked in the annual event.

“Things kicked up a notch for me when I attended a post event party at the close of my fifth walk,” remembered Dopp with a chuckle. “Lisa Gerrol, the president of the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter, came up to my table and asked me if I lived in Enfield. When I told her I did, she informed me of the launch of a new walk site in Enfield. The next thing I knew, I was on the planning committee. That was 16 or 17 year ago.”

Still at the helm, Dopp is responsible for recruiting teams, spreading the word, helping with logistics and simply going wherever the committee needs her to go.

“We begin planning in the fall, and after 21 years everyone on the committee knows exactly what to do; we all know our roles,” said Dopp. “Jobs are based on contacts, talent and skill. But everyone pitches in anywhere, wherever needed.”

Dopp also raises funds for the cause. This year she is partnering with her local Red Robin restaurant to host an MS fundraiser, the Red Robin Benefit for MS. The event will be held Thursday, May 24, and will benefit the 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power.

“We plan to have drawings for great prizes,” said Dopp. “In fact, we will be drawing for a 42-inch flat panel television from local business, P.C. Richards and Son. Best of all, Red Robin will donate a percentage of each bill to the National MS Society.”

Donna Ellis, marketing coordinator at Red Robin, hopes residents will come out to celebrate what promises to be a successful walk.

“Our Red Robin Benefit for MS is an opportunity for everyone to reunite and celebrate,” said Ellis, who has been in the food service industry for more than 44 years and with Red Robin for four years. “Community is important. Red Robin is committed to outreach and giving back. My uncle had multiple sclerosis, so this is a cause that I can champion.”

More than 6,000 Connecticut residents currently live with the effects of multiple sclerosis. The cause is unknown and there is currently no cure. Symptoms can include anything from numbness in the limbs, difficulties in vision or speech, stiffness, and in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity and symptoms vary from person to person and cannot be predicted. Events, such as the Travelers Walk MS, ensure ongoing scientific research to find better treatments and a cure. Funds also provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered to people in Connecticut living with multiple sclerosis.

Dopp can’t forget her uncle, and his battle. And she can’t forget the many people she has met since signing on to make a difference.

“We all walk a journey,” said Dopp. “And my journey led me here; here to the fight against MS. It’s so important that we all give back in some way, somehow. Multiple sclerosis scares me. I want to do what I can to help.”

The Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, will be held Sunday, April 22, at 12 sites across Connecticut, including JFK Middle School in Enfield. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. Participants can select from a 2.5-mile route or a 5-mile route. Everyone returns to fun-filled activities and lunch compliments of Subway and Coca-Cola.

Walk MS community partners include WTNH News 8/My TV 9 and Clear Channel Radio Connecticut, which includes The River 105.9, Country 92.5, KISS 95.7, ESPN 1410 AM, KC 101.3, 960 WELI and ESPN 1300 AM. Other community partners include WUVN Univision, 95.9 The FOX and WCTY Country Favorites 97.7.

To register for the 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, visit To learn more about Red Robin Gourmet Burgers restaurants or to find a nearby location, go to For more information on Melissa Dopp’s Red Robin Benefit for MS fundraiser, please contact her at 860-749-0829.

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