The Muscular Dystrophy Association, the iconic charity that revolutionized philanthropic giving in America with telethons, celebrities and cause marketing, today unveiled a revitalized brand reflecting a renewed commitment to accelerate treatments and cures for the kids, adults and families it serves.

Video: Jerry Lewis Message

MDA fights muscular dystrophy, ALS and related life-threatening diseases that take away everyday freedoms such as walking, running, hugging and even breathing.

To mark the occasion, the Chicago-based charity with nearly 100 local offices in hometowns across America returned to New York, the city where it was founded by families for families and the birthplace of its legendary telethon supported during the years by a “who’s who” list of Hollywood celebrities led by Jerry Lewis. MDA is today launching its revitalized brand with sponsors, TV personalities and MDA-supported families at Carnegie Hall, the site of the first MDA national telethon.

As part of its renewed mission focus, MDA will double spending on research toward drug development and clinical trials, and increase the number of families who receive MDA care and support by 50 percent to 150,000 individuals annually by the year 2020. In the next five years, MDA also plans to send 20,000 kids to its highly acclaimed, weeklong MDA Summer Camps, at no charge to their families.

“Our families spoke and we listened,” said MDA President and CEO Steven M. Derks. “Just as kids and adults with muscular dystrophy must start a new fight each day, MDA is starting a new era in our fight on their behalf, building on our rich heritage. The result is an MDA determined to accelerate progress against the harmful effects of these diseases as we engage a new generation of supporters.”

MDA was started in 1950 by a prominent New York business leader fighting muscular dystrophy. In 1956, its longtime, iconic volunteer leader extraordinaire Jerry Lewis and fellow actor Dean Martin did their first telethon at Carnegie Hall. The event began MDA’s rise to relevancy and spurred an annual Labor Day telethon tradition that captured the hearts of Americans for decades. MDA held its last telethon in 2014.

Lewis, who hosted MDA’s telethon until 2011 when he last appeared as MDA National Chairman, taped a special message to the MDA community, urging continued support for MDA and the families he has championed for decades.

“I think it’s great that MDA has a new look and tagline — we’ve got to keep giving strength, independence and life to all the kids and adults who are fighting muscular dystrophy and other life-threatening diseases,” said Jerry Lewis. “Today, there are signs of real progress — and progress can’t come fast enough for my kids and our MDA families. Our work is not done.”

In recent weeks, the first possible treatments for the most prevalent form of muscular dystrophy, called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, have come before the federal government’s Food & Drug Administration. Fueled by $200 million in MDA research investments during six decades, MDA said more new treatment options and clinical trials are expected in the next five years than in the previous five decades.

To commemorate its new brand, MDA rolled out a new logo, website and campaign called “Live Unlimited.” The logo features warm iris blue and marigold colors and shows a heart in the middle of the “D” in “MDA,” an overt symbol of the families who are at the very center of its mission. MDA also introduced a new tagline, “For strength, independence and life,” underscoring its purpose.

“The MDA brand is iconic and now has a fresh identity that matches our passionate commitment,” said Steve Ford, MDA’s Chief Communications and Marketing Officer. “The new campaign is inspired by the courageous kids and adults we serve who model strength, break down barriers and defy limits, overcoming in many cases formidable health struggles. MDA families are the inspiration behind everything we do.”

To promote its mission, MDA is energizing its base of supporters by showcasing individuals and families affected by muscle-debilitating diseases on its new website who are demonstrating inspiring can-do moments — whether it’s crossing the street in a wheelchair on their own, graduating from college, living and working independently, or even skydiving.

MDA is inviting supporters to share their live unlimited moments on a new digital hub being launched today at mda.org. The “Live Unlimited” theme will extend throughout its fundraising programs. MDA also is planning a new cause marketing campaign this summer, hoping to spur through digital channels more fundraising and corporate partnerships based on the same theme of defying limits.

A Bold Five-Year Plan

Beyond plans to double its research spending for treatments and cures and assist 50 percent more MDA families, MDA will introduce a new MDA Family Resource Center so individuals can call or connect online with trained neuromuscular disease specialists to obtain one-on-one information and support. It will open by the summer.

The organization will implement higher standards of care at more than 150 MDA Care Centers (formerly called MDA clinics) to ensure everyone has access to early diagnosis, highly specialized care and promising clinical trials. MDA also plans to expand its offerings for teens and young adults transitioning into adulthood and seeking to live independently.

A New National Spokesperson

To signal a new era in which people with muscular dystrophy are living longer than ever with diseases once only considered pediatric, MDA has named a young adult as its new National Goodwill Ambassador. This is the first time in the ambassador program’s 64-year history that a child hasn’t been selected to serve in this role. Past U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, all have hosted sessions with MDA ambassadors.

Joe Akmakjian, 24, from Fort Collins, Colo., is MDA’s new 2016 National Goodwill Ambassador. Akmakjian was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at 15 months old; his parents were told he would likely not live past his 12th birthday. Last year, leaving his wheelchair behind, Akmakjian went skydiving to celebrate a special milestone when he doubled his life expectancy.

As MDA’s most visible spokesman, Akmakjian will deepen MDA’s reach among millennials and help champion the need for improved public policies and support for young adults with disabilities.

“My dream is to inspire all types of people — not just people with muscular dystrophy or ALS — to live beyond their perceived limitations and achieve the success inside them,” said Akmakjian. “People often see my wheelchair and my physical limitations and ask me what I could do if I could walk. The truth is, we’re redefining what’s possible … with high hopes to inspire the world around us.”

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