Jefferson Awards: A Community With A Cause

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It started with a basketball game. Then another. Then another.

However, for nearly three decades, there's only been one winner - the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Every year, the small town of Camanche, Iowa puts up big numbers by raising tens of thousands of dollars in honor of two people.

"31 years ago, Jason and Joshua were diagnosed with Becker's Muscular Dystrophy," explained Cheryl Paasch, the twin's mother. "At that time, we had some friends who played basketball with my husband and some of the guys on the team wanted to help our family out, so they thought they would have a basketball tournament and have the money go to our family."

But Cheryl said no.

"We didn't feel like that was necessary," she said. "At the time, Jason and Joshua were still ambulatory and MDA was meeting our needs for what assistance they needed at the time, so we didn't feel like we needed to benefit from the tournament."

"We said if they'd like to do a fundraiser that would be fine, but let's raise the money and give it to MDA and so Camanche MDA Basketball Tournament was born 27 years ago."

Behind every one of those 27 years - behind the scenes - is Cheryl. Her friend, Tammie Kooi, said she got involved in the fundraiser as soon as she got to know Cheryl.

"The effort that she puts in to make this event successful is huge," said Tammie. "It just drew me in."

Tammie is one of many who helps Cheryl organize the fundraiser every year, which is very popular.

"People ask months in advance what the date is going to be," explained Tammie. "They plan around that. They want to make sure they're involved."

In fact, the event is such a success every year - it only takes two meetings to plan everything out.

"Our meeting are formality," laughed Cheryl. "Everybody just says - yeah, I'm coming - and we're a go. We hit the ground running, so it's great."

"It is the small hometown feeling," added Tammie. "We get that support very much through this event, because everyone wants to support this cause and especially this family."

It's why Tammie is nominating Cheryl for the Jefferson Award, on behalf of WQAD and Genesis Health System.

"Cheryl is very much an unsung hero," said Tammie. "She doesn't want any of the recognition for all her effort and all her work and her husband Jim is even worse and the boys are right behind Jim, so they don't want anyone - they don't feel like they should be appreciated for what they do, but everyone really appreciates what they do."

"I just can't express the overwhelming warmth it gives our family," responded Cheryl. "It helps my sons be more open about their condition. It makes them feel like they're like everybody else and it's just great when the weekend rolls here and you see those same faces checking in to play and you hear - yeah, we wouldn't miss this for the world. It just gives us a good feeling that we are hopefully doing something right and for a good cause."

In its 27th year, there are now more basketball teams than ever. They come from all over the area and all over the country - California, Texas, Wisconsin.

"We have an alumni team from Wisconsin that has been here almost from day one with us," said Cheryl. "We have one player since the very first game and now his son is playing in our tournament."

There are more donations than ever before, too. Cheryl said that in 1989, they raised $3,000. In 2015, they raised $41,000. In 2016, they hope to break the $500,000 mark in total donations between the fundraiser and a pancake breakfast the Camanche Fire Departments puts on every August.

"Camanche should really be credited, not just our family," said Cheryl. "If we're chosen for this award, it's a Camanche award."

Camanche's 27th Annual MDA Fundraiser takes place March 18th-20th, 2016. The event includes a basketball tournament as well as a hog roast, cake auction, raffle baskets, and more - all at Imperial Lanes Bowling Alley, 1823 S. Washington Blvd., Camanche, Iowa.

WQAD will be introducing you to a new Jefferson Award Nominee every month. In Spring 2016, we will announce who is going to represent our area at the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious celebration of public service. Past winners include Chad Pregracke, Walter Cronkite, Steve Jobs, Paul Newman, and Michael Bloomberg.

To nominate an “unsung hero” for the Jefferson Award, click here.