Having worked as a pharmacist and taught at the University of Illinois, Riverside resident Ken Bober has seen firsthand the effects of debilitating medical conditions. When his cousin's daughter, Christina Bober, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 22 in 2005, he decided he wanted to help.
Multiple sclerosis is a potentially debilitating disease that attacks the nervous system and often results in mobility issues.
Since 2011, when the Bober family started Team Chrissy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation that helps those with multiple sclerosis and their families, Ken has been a member on the board of directors and has been spreading the gospel of the foundation's signature program — Canes from Chrissy.
"In a very direct way I can help my family with what they are doing and their mission to help others," Ken Bober said.
Canes from Chrissy is his way of giving back.
The idea for Canes from Chrissy stemmed from her own need for a cane and her initial reluctance to use one.
On the foundation's website (www.teamchrissy.org), Christina Bober explains how it all came about.
"The physical therapist told me not to look at it as a bad thing, but something that was going to help me and help to keep me safe," she said. "Being in my 20s, I just couldn't see myself walking around with a cane. I didn't want people to stare at me and I didn't want to be walking around with an ugly metal cane."
What she decided would help was to personalize her canes by making them works of art.
"Canes from Chrissy is an excellent initiative, because it allows a little personality and fun to be put into a cane," said Christina Bober in a separate interview. "I figure if you have to use one, it might as well be fun."
When the project first launched early in 2012, Team Chrissy purchased 70 raw, undecorated canes and distributed them to area artists, art schools, businesses, sponsors and friends who volunteered to decorate them.
They received 51 differently decorated canes back, tagged them with numbers and then displayed them at Team Chrissy events, such as their annual golf outing and youth baseball tournament.
People at those events are given the opportunity to vote for their favorite decorated canes at a cost of a dollar a vote. Last year, the voting raised $475, which helps defray the cost of the undecorated canes and benefits Team Chrissy's main purpose — to help MS patients. The winner for the best decorated cane for Canes from Chrissy in 2013 will be announced at the foundation's 4th Annual Golf Outing on Aug. 17.
In addition to Team Chrissy events, the 2013 canes will be on display for voting at the Abilities Expo in Chicago on June 28-30.
Ken Bober has been hard at work in Riverside passing out brochures and delivering undecorated canes to local residents and anyone interested in decorating one.
"We needed to do something that is different, and Canes from Chrissy makes us unique," Ken Bober said. "We are hoping that we can cut through some of the static out there and become better known in the Chicagoland area."
Since beginning the project in 2012, Team Chrissy has also decided to broaden the reach of Canes from Chrissy. In addition to those with multiple sclerosis, canes are also available to anyone with a mobility disability. There is no cost to receive a cane from the foundation.
"Team Chrissy means a way to help people now; not sometime in the future," Christina Bober said. "It also allows for us to concentrate our efforts on younger individuals diagnosed with MS, although we will gladly help anyone who needs it."
Anybody who wants to participate in decorating a cane is welcome to contact Team Chrissy via email.
Information for the foundation's events can be found at the Team Chrissy website, where you can view all of last year's 51 decorated canes. People interested in more information about getting or decorating a cane can contact Ken Bober via email at Ken_Bober@teamchrissy.org or at 708-447-6540.