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Fighting CF through fun food and purpose

Annual Shamrockin’ for a Cure March 25 at Verizon

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. - From the first small gathering of friends and family to a star-studded bash that attracts hundreds at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, the Shamrockin’ for A Cure event has become as synonymous with the month of March as St. Patrick’s Day and green beer.

But the one facet that has not changed over the years is the focus on raising money to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis – a progressive genetic disease that affects the lungs and primarily begins in childhood.

The annual event began in 2008 when Jon and Pam Baker of Roswell created Shamrockin’ for Cure along with close friends as a fundraising event to raise both awareness and money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Atlanta. Both of the Bakers’ sons, were diagnosed with CF—the youngest in utero during Pam’s pregnancy.

For Lara Dolan who has been part of the Shamrockin’ for a Cure event since that first event, the growth has been welcome – in both raising money for research as well as awareness.

“ShamRockin’ now has many more corporate sponsors who not only contribute money, but raise the visibility of the event and the cause deep into our community,“ said Dolan, pointing to sponsors like Jon Baker Financial, William B. Orkin Foundation, Connected Fibers, and RBM Alpharetta.

Unlike many of the people involved with the Shamrockin’ event, Dolan does not have a child with CF. But that has not stopped the Alpharetta Realtor from contributing her time and talents to the success of the event.

“I got involved after we attended the first, very small, Shamrockin’,” said Dolan, who serves in the “army” of volunteers as the sponsors committee chairperson. “We have long-time family friends who lost their daughter to CF in 2006. This was a very special group of people, and felt I could bring skills and resources to help take Shamrockin’ to higher levels.”

Over the past eight years, Shamrockin’ has raised more than $1.7 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the goal for this year’s event on March 25 is $500,000. The success of the event here in North Fulton has led to similar startups across the country, from Chicago to Vermont – all with the goal of finding a cure for CF.

Having a child with CF has spurred many parents to get involved with Shamrockin’, as a way to both raise money for something that impacts them personally, but also to be with people who share the common bond.

Jennifer Wood of Cumming learned just months ago that her 10-month old son, Finn, had the disease. That diagnosis upended her world, but she found the lifeline in Shamrockin’ along with a group of instant friends on the same journey.

“I am new to the CF community and am so thankful for events like Shamrockin’!” said Wood. “They continue to pave the way toward a cure [and] this event is vital to the fight. And does so in such a fun way!”

The “fun” part may be one of the reasons for the success of the event, which emphasizes the purpose is to “eat, drink and cure cystic fibrosis.” This year, more than 30 local restaurants will be serving dinner, top-shelf spirits will flow, the music never stops, the dance floor is always open, and hundreds of items will be offered during the auction.

Dolan said ultimately Shamrockin’s success comes down to a few things: people and uniqueness.

“We attract incredible, dedicated, creative and energetic people, and it’s different,” she explained. “Five-K runs and black-tie events are wonderful, but Shamrockin’ is about kicking up your heels, tossing on your green hat, and having such a great time you almost forget you are at a fundraiser.”

Jamie Roney and her husband, Ross, of Atlanta are among those who were drawn to Shamrockin’ to not only connect with other parents, but also to commit their energy into finding a cure. Their 18-month old daughter, Desi, was diagnosed with CF at 10 days old.

“The army that leads Shamrockin’ is stellar,” said Jamie, a stay-at-home mom. “They step forward and say ‘we will fight for you’. Their goals are our goals, they understand our battle and hope. This army and this event mean the world to us!”

Melissa Pinkston and her husband, JB, live in Inman Park with son Grayton, and have been tireless advocates for fighting CF both through Shamrockin’ as well as their own foundation, Grayton’s Guardians.

Their son was also diagnosed with CF at 10 days old, and just days later family and friends sprung to action and formed Grayton’s Guardians.

“We went to our first CF Foundation event when Grayton was two months old and were welcomed with open arms by other CF families,” said Melissa, a sales rep for Spotify. “Grayton is now 17 months old and we’re so grateful for all the support and love everyone has provided us on our journey.”

Through Grayton’s Guardians, the Pinkstons have raised over $50,000 to help cure CF. They are also involved in raising money for Shamrockin’. Melissa credits Pam Baker with being the driving force since the beginning.

“She is truly the leader of the CF Mama Bear tribe,” Melissa said. “She inspires everyone in the CF community, but, especially me, as a new mom trying to make sense of everything.”

Meeting Pam also helped Erica Tarnacki of Dawsonville come to terms with the diagnosis of CF for her 2-year-old son, Lincoln.

“I met Pam Baker at our very first CF education day,” said Erica, who also has a 7-month old daughter with husband, Tony. “We were terrified new parents and Pam was so kind and answered all of the questions we threw at her with so much grace and compassion.”

Erica said she hopes to follow in her footsteps and blaze the same trail that Pam has blazed with Shamrockin’.

“Since [Lincoln’s diagnosis] we’ve been doing what any parents in our situation would do, we are fighting for our son’s life every single day.”

Looking to the future, Dolan said the biggest party is yet to come.

“It will be the year that we announce a CURE for every CF patient. Now THAT will be one heck of a Shamrockin’!”


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