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Usually, hundreds of people gather at Dodds Park each September for the Walk to Defeat ALS, but last year was different. Instead, 20 different walks took place around town, with contributors hosting their own small get-togethers in solidarity.

The event worked in conjunction with the ALS Association of Greater Chicago, the umbrella organization that facilitated walks around the state, which held its event first.

“We got to test the waters with Chicago, and by the time we got to Champaign, we were really excited about this mini walk format,” said Samantha Courter, fundraising and marketing coordinator for the Chicago chapter. “It gave us the opportunity to pick everybody’s favorite parts from the in-person event and give the teams the tools themselves. We gave them the materials to spread the word right from their own front yards or door hangers to hang from their neighbor’s door.”

The Champaign walk was the only walk in the Greater Chicago chapter to exceed its goal last year, and it wasn’t even close. After entering with a goal of $50,000, the Champaign walk earned $81,000.

After considering whether to hold an in-person event this year, the group decided it would once again go virtual. Residents can register to raise money and hold their own walks for this year’s event on Sept. 25 now at web.alsa.org/champaignwalk.

“We miss the in-person event,” Courter said. “We miss not being able to hug everybody and see everybody. We knew that come September, things would still be in between and not all the way back to normal.”

If the event were held in person, “we were going to have to count out the folks with ALS. What’s so special about the event is that it’s not just for the ALS community. It’s really their day. If they couldn’t participate in the event, it wasn’t going to be the same. We’re moving forward with the virtual event, which allows us to go full steam in that direction and give it our all all year leading up to it.”

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