As students are returning back to school across the nation, The ALS Association shared the announcement of an award of $350,000 in scholarships to 70 students for the 2022-2023 school year through The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund. Established in 2019, the fund was created to support post-high school education for students whose lives have been impacted by ALS. Since its inception, the Association has awarded $1,545,000 in 309 scholarships for students nationwide who are pursuing an accredited college degree or vocational certificate.
“The financial burden of ALS is devastating to families, and kids are all too often collateral damage,” says Mark Calmes, member of The ALS Association’s National Board of Trustees, and founder of the scholarship fund. Mark and his family created the fund in honor of his late wife, Jane, who fought ALS for eight years and passed away in August 2017. “The disease forces many students to delay their education so they can pitch in as caregivers, while others lose the financial ability to attend school altogether. I’m very pleased the fund is able to help some of these students get back on the education path that was disrupted by ALS.”
We recently talked with Garrett Sakomizu, one of the 2022 scholarship recipients, to learn a little more about his connection to ALS, what receiving the scholarship means to him, and his future plans in healthcare and ALS research.
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund was established to help people who have beenimpacted by ALS pursue their education. What is your personal connection to ALS?
My father was diagnosed with ALS in May 2020. Since then, I have been one of his primary caretakers along with my mother.
It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of people don’t know what ALS is. What do you wish people knew about the disease?
As I am raising awareness at UCR, I want to emphasize to people how ALS is a fatal, progressive disease and that no matter what me, my mother, or all the other caretakers for ALS patients out there do, there is nothing we can do to stop its ultimate fate on our loved ones.
How will the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund impact your future?
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund will help me pay for textbooks and other materials, allowing my family’s savings for college to last slightly longer before taking out loans.
What are you planning to study and why?
I am currently entering my second year as a microbiology major at the University of California, Riverside. I aspire to become a healthcare professional, but I also want to be able to conduct biomedical research, specifically on ALS and its biochemical mechanisms. I think of research as one of my three-pronged approaches to fighting ALS. The other two ways I am fighting ALS are by taking care of my father and volunteering for the Walk to Defeat ALS® in the Greater Los Angeles area where I am from, and the Inland Empire area where I go to college.
What do you like to do when you aren’t in school?
Unfortunately, since I started college, I have not had much free time since I am coming home to take care of my father on weekends. I am resuming volunteering for hospitals in my area this academic year which I was forced to pause due to the pandemic and adjusting to college while taking care of my father. I also like playing musical instruments like piano and drums and playing soccer with friends. I enjoy cooking for my parents at home and providing music lessons to kids in my neighborhood.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We (caretakers) fight ALS personally because it is the right thing to do. I think many caretakers like me sacrifice so much to do what we do because we know we will never have a chance to show our love and dedication to our affected relatives after they pass away.