Matt Murray described his childhood as an unconventional one.
"I have a different relationship with my mother," he said. "I’ve been the caregiver rather than the other way around."
Matt Murray’s mother, Starr Murray, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis shortly after giving birth to her son.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is chronic, unpredictable disease that affects the central nervous system. Common symptoms include dizziness, depression, changes in cognitive function including problems with memory, attention and problem solving, difficulty walking or balance, pain and vision problems.
Now, the 24-year-old Sterling resident volunteers his time with the National Capital Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Washington, D.C.
Murray, who grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., before moving to Sterling and attending Potomac Falls High School, said he was greatly influenced by his friends’ commitment to community service in Indiana.
"I’ve been deeply impacted by my friends’ involvement in community service," he said, "and I grew up with a mom who has MS."
When it came time for Murray to volunteer, joining the MS Society seemed like the natural thing to do.
He first volunteered his early morning hours before work at a D.C. law firm to the MS Society doing administrative work there.
In September, Murray began studying for a graduate degree in public policy from George Mason University. The student had to give up his morning hours with the organization, but expressed an interest in advocacy.
Jill Fasching, manager of advocacy and public policy, recruited Murray to share his family’s story to lawmakers and lobby for better services.
"It worked out well," he said.
NOW MURRAY is an advocate for the organization. He participated in a number of legislative days this year.
Last month, Murray participated in the National Lobbying Day in Washington, D.C., where he lobbied for accessible transportation, affordable housing and better support programs for people who have MS or other physical or mental diseases.
Murray, and a handful of other volunteers, addressed the General Assembly in Richmond in January to ask them to help fund the Virginia Caregivers Grant Program, which helps people who care for people with diseases like MS who do not get paid for their work.
The advocates were successful. The General Assembly appropriated $200,000 for the grant program. This program awards up to $500 for individuals who provide unreimbursed care to a person with MS or another disease that causes mental or physical impairment.
State legislators also responded to the advocates' appeal for a more accessible transportation system.
A person who needs to use multiple transportation systems while traveling throughout the state must go through separate application processes for each system, Fasching said. Because of the work of activists, the Virginia General Assembly directed the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to work with local transit systems and implement a single, statewide qualification system for accessible transportation by June 30, 2008.
"These have been the busiest 30 days of my life," he said.
MURRAY SAID he makes time between work and school to volunteer with the MS Society because he believes in what he’s fighting for alongside his fellow advocates.
"It is very easy to put off volunteer work," he said. "It’s a good habit to get into this type of thing early. I have no wife, no kids, no excuse to say no."
Individuals from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia will participate in the 19th Annual MS Walk Saturday, April 14, in Manassas, as well as Oxon Hill and Potomac, both in Maryland, and Washington, D.C., and Sunday, April 15 in Reston and Bowie, Md.
For more information about each site, e-mail MSWalk@MSandYou.org or call 202-296-5363.
"I grew up doing those walks in Fort Wayne, Ind.," Murray said. "This has always been a part of my life."