This year Bell Media was fortunate enough to be a sponsor of BourbonHam. Through this, we were able to gain a deeper insight into the mission of the event and the organization behind it: The MS Society of Alabama. Their hard work and dedication has successfully quadrupled funds raised since BourbonHam’s conception in 2017. I had the pleasure of sitting down with local board member, Burt Chandler of IberiaBank, to hear more about his involvement and the organization.
Why did you become involved in the organization, and how has your involvement evolved over time?
The way I got involved started as one thing and has lead to something way bigger. At the time, I was living in Louisiana and loved cycling. A friend of mine had a team for a biking trip from Louisiana to Mississippi ride that benefitted Multiple Sclerosis (MS), so I joined! Shortly after, I moved to Birmingham for my job at IberiaBank. I found some cyclists here within the company and we formed our own team. We saw there were beach rides so we thought that would be fun! We formed a team of 8 and had a great time. I got to know the Alabama MS Society staff members through this particular ride and throughout that, I was able to get more involved. Now our team of 8 cyclists has grown to 127 people.
Have you been personally affected by MS? If so, can you share?
My Aunt Anne, from Charleston, passed away about 3 years ago after living with it for most of her life. Back then there were not many medications to help with the symptoms of MS like blurred vision, headaches, and issues with motor skills. What I loved about my Aunt Anne is despite her symptoms, she made us all Christmas ornaments every year, and I still have all of my ornaments today.
As I started working at IberiaBank I realized we had many folks that are affected by MS. That’s why so many of our employees have joined our bike team.
What’s been your favorite part or memory from your involvement in this non-profit?
It’s the people you meet. Both the staff at the MS Society and the volunteers that come to help out. They’re just wonderful and easy to work with. They’re the kind of people that you just enjoy socializing with, even outside of these events. In terms of, BourbonHam it is just SO fun! We love how personal, authentic and fun this event is!
How much time do you commit to this organization?
I donate a lot of time, but it’s not about ‘look what I do.’ I choose to dedicate the time but it’s not a challenge.
We host multiple events throughout the year like Shootout MS and Bourbonham. But those planning meetings are fun; I mean…we drink bourbon at almost every meeting!
I also have my cycling team, but again, cycling is something that I really enjoy doing so I might as well do it to benefit the MS Society and be with my friends.
If this organization were to be on the cover of your favorite newspaper or magazine in the future, what would the story be about?
It would probably be about how much fun working with the right organization can be. Find the one you like and enjoy it! I “get” to work with these people, not “have” to.
Tell us about the creation of “Bourbonham”?
Scott Thorne sits on our MS board and has lived with MS for the last 6-7 years. He came into a board meeting with an idea. He loved bourbon, football, BBQ, and live music. He wanted to throw an event with all of those things to benefit MS but didn’t have a name. That morning, interestingly enough, he got the name while watching Brook Smith, WTVM 13 Anchor. She was saying “Birmingham” but in a southern accent, that drew it out to sound like, and what Scott heard, “Bourbonham.” When he presented this we did not want to change one thing. We loved it and asked, “how can we make this happen?” To make sure college football was not interrupted (a southern religion) they picked January so NFL championship games would be playing for the event. And it’s been a success every year since!
Can you summarize what BourbonHam is and how it is linked to the MS Society?
BourbonHam is a bourbon tasting, BBQ, football, and music event held in a casual environment on the third NFL playoff Sunday. Proceeds benefit the MS society because the gentlemen that thought it up has MS and he likes to drink Bourbon. Easy as that!
How would you describe the goals of the organization, and how does the organization achieve these goals?
The MS Society’s goal is “a world free of MS” but until a cure is found, our goal is to make the lives of the people who have this disease, and the lives of their families, easier.
There are so many symptoms that become a huge problem for people with this disease. Anything that can be given to help drive research and develop new medications for folks that can’t provide for themselves, this organization wants to provide for them. BourbonHam helps achieve those goals by making folks aware of MS. It’s rather debilitating and can make your everyday life miserable. Having 1,200 people come to BourbonHam and learn more about MS is extremely helpful to the MS Society. All donations go straight to the cause so we work hard to make sure to have a high return with this event.
How would you characterize the board’s role in the nonprofit organization?
The board’s role is to put the word out, find volunteers and gather idea (like Scott who originally thought of BourbonHam).
The other thing is getting in with local businesses and networking within the Birmingham community. Our first year we had 1 sponsor for BourbonHam, and now we have 18, which is a huge part of what board members contribute.
What attributes or level of professional development do board members of this organization possess?
Usually, they are some kind of community leader or place of business or just idea people. Those are the folks we look for, the people that are active and, coming to events, and will volunteer to be involved.
How do you bring on new board members? Are you hoping to add any new board members in the near future?
We are always looking for more board members; the number is infinite. We are constantly looking for new active folks to come join us!
If someone was not able to attend BourbonHam this year, what is a way they can give or get involved or help the MS Society?
Buy your BourbonHam tickets early and come have a great time! Another way is to contact the MS Society for volunteer information, we will take them! It takes so many hands to prepare for all our events, especially the weeks leading up to the event. We can always look for more help!
Also, if you’re a cyclist, come ride with us at the beach in September. If you want to join a team and gain a pretty cycling kit from me, join my team here!
Bell Media is honored to display and promote the MS Society and their efforts to increase awareness in the greater Birmingham area. If you are with a non-profit or know of a good cause that should be featured in an edition of Beyond Bell please contact me at [email protected].
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