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Making a Difference: Teen stitches together MS charity

Meredith Polk, 17, of Henrico County, started a knitting group to raise money to support people with multiple sclerosis.

Inside her parents’ home in Henrico County, Meredith Polk rummaged through a box of scarves until she happened upon an outlandish, fluffy orange one.
“I have a vendetta against orange,” she said with a laugh.

In a tiresome endeavor, she and her fellow knitters once made 50 orange scarves for a National Multiple Sclerosis Society advocacy campaign.

Those scarves are among hundreds upon hundreds that her nonprofit organization has made in more than six years while raising more than $50,000 for the National MS Society.

“She is one amazing young lady,” said Sherri Ellis, president of the National MS Society’s Virginia-West Virginia Chapter.

John and Marty Polk had long volunteered with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Their then-10-year-old daughter, who already had an affinity for knitting, decided she would make scarves, sell them and donate the money for MS causes.

“And I was like: ‘Hey, friends, come and knit with me!’” Polk, now 17, recalled of the beginnings of what is now Miles of Scarves, the nonprofit group she founded.

Polk held weekly gatherings with friends on Friday evenings that consisted of knitting, socializing and, of course, eating cookies. Those weekly gatherings have continued ever since.

Members of Miles of Scarves sell their work at fundraising events, craft fairs and online for $20 to $30. Some are made in college colors, and knitters sometimes accept special requests as well.

The proceeds go toward research aimed at finding a cure for MS; providing medical assistance for people with MS; and even a yearly $2,000 scholarship to help an incoming college student who has MS or whose family member has MS, Polk said.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the nervous system that affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause pain, fatigue, loss of balance, and vision problems, among other issues.

Miles of Scarves, which earned its nonprofit status in 2015, also has held cocktail parties and silent auctions of donated items to raise money for MS.
Polk, a senior at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, said Miles of Scarves has about 20 core members plus knitting clubs that contribute scarves.

In total, about 40 people have contributed scarves over the years, she said. The nonprofit has a board of directors and a junior board, both of which help to determine ways to raise money and how best to spend that money to benefit people with MS.

Polk, who said she often knits while watching television, said it usually takes her about 90 minutes to knit a simple scarf and as many as several hours for more complicated ones.
She joked that mindless TV shows have helped contribute to MS research.

“It’s true. They should be recognized,” she said with a laugh.

While Polk says she did not know much about multiple sclerosis when she first started raising money for it, she has become passionate about the cause and believes more research is needed, as well as awareness of the disease and financial assistance for those living with it.

Ellis said annual medical expenses for people with MS tend to be $60,000 to $70,000, and that even people with good insurance often have to cover substantial co-payments.

Many of the symptoms are invisible, such as fatigue or vision problems, Polk noted. And many people know people who have MS without even realizing it, considering that the effects of the disease are not always easy to spot.

“It kind of makes you want to do something about it,” Polk said.

Polk said she hopes to continue to expand the nonprofit’s influence, and she said the organization can always use more knitters and donations. Even yarn donations are helpful, she said.

“If they don’t know how to knit, we can teach. Or YouTube can teach them,” she said.

Ellis said one of the most impressive things about Polk is her ability to lead people. She said Polk has brought in people whom she has met in all walks of her life to help with the organization, and she has even recruited young children to continue the mission.

“She has a true vision and skill set. She’s wise beyond her years,” Ellis said of Polk.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by RICHMOND
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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