Tucson Charity Bridge Club Founder Ruth Houkom, standing, with Patti Schadow, left, Harriet Kronman and Patty Everts at Streams in the Desert Lutheran Church.


Orange is a color, a county and a juice, but Monika Mendoza, Katie Mihina and a group of friends hope to make it a call to action against multiple sclerosis at the Orange Out on Saturday at Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave.

"At a whiteout, everyone wears white. Our idea is to have everyone wear orange, since orange is the official color for MS," said Mendoza, 30, a high school teacher who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the fall of 2007.

The native Tucsonan is one of more than 8,000 Arizonans and 400,000 Americans affected by MS, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves and impairs normal function of the central nervous system.

Symptoms of the disease, which generally takes four courses of varying severity, can range from mild - numbness in the limbs - to severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.

Mendoza, whose symptoms primarily present as numbness or burning in her hands and feet and extreme fatigue, said initially she was unsure what the diagnosis meant for her life.

"MS is a little different for everyone. People often think of it is as someone in a wheelchair, and that is a reality for some people, but there are lots of stages. I feel that if you are an individual with MS who is reasonably healthy, you should try to help in whatever way you can for those who aren't so healthy," she said.

She and her friends formed Team Awesome! and began with the local MS walk and were so inspired that they decided to explore options to further support young people with the disease.

Mendoza's personal experiences in dealing with the physical, emotional and economic realities of the disease - including daily injectable medications that can cost upward of $1,800 monthly - gave her greater motivation to help alleviate stress on individuals struggling with the disease.

"Whether they are self-supporting or living with their families, one of the things people with MS face, if they don't have insurance that will pay for their medication, is that they have to wait two years for Medicare (or other social welfare agencies) to pay for it.

"During that waiting period, they have to pay for the medications on their own and face bankruptcy or be cool with the fact that if they can't get medications, they will get sicker during that time," Mendoza said.

Assistance is available for those in need through pharmaceutical companies and through the National MS Society, Arizona Chapter, emergency financial aid fund.

The chapter also provides education, care management, support groups, exercise and wellness programs and other resources in addition to funding MS research. Proceeds from Orange Out directly benefit the emergency financial aid fund.

"With third-party fundraisers, people have the power to denote where they would like their funds to go, which is something a lot of people might not realize. If there is something close to their heart, it gives people the option to control how the dollars they contribute are used. That is a very powerful thing, and it makes me very proud for our organization," said Erin Ulloa, development manager of the society's Tucson Regional Office.

Staging the fundraiser was surprisingly simple, according to Mihina, who has known Mendoza for 10 years and wanted to do something proactive to promote MS awareness.

"It is amazing how quickly and easily it came together. We called some friends to do some favors and you have yourself a little benefit going on," she said.

The women are excited to showcase the energy and enthusiasm of their "very connected" downtown neighborhood, which they feel is distinguished by talented musicians and supportive friends such as Jim Vanza and Jill Brammer, owners of Che's Lounge.

"I am incredibly thankful that they are part of the effort to eliminate MS. They are lovely people, and I'm very lucky to have such good friends," Mendoza said.

If you go

• What: Orange Out

• When: 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave.

• Cost: Free; donations are welcome

• Etc.: Festivities include live music by Jim Cox of Fourkiller Flats with Jimmy Carr, and the Discos, featuring John Polle, Ricky Shimo, Ben Degain and Tommy Melchionda. Guests can expect a blend of country, rock and Southern rock.

Orange attire is requested; orange corsages and boutonnieres will be available for a donation, and all proceeds benefit the local emergency financial aid fund of the National MS Society, Arizona Chapter.

Registration will also be available for the 18th Annual Tucson Walk MS on March 12. For more information, call 325-0755.

• What: The 18th Annual Tucson Walk MS

• When: 9:30 a.m. March 12. Check-in begins at 8 a.m.

• Where: Ramada 31 on the northwest side of Hi Corbett Field, 900 S. Randolph Way. Access the event by driving south on Randolph Way from Broadway Boulevard.

• Cost: Free; donations are tax-deductible

• Etc.: Festivities include a family-friendly, three-mile walk and a shortened one-mile route accessible to strollers, wheelchairs and leashed dogs.

Festivities also include live music, informational resources, balloons, face-painting and snacks. Participants who raise $100 or more will receive a T-shirt and free admission to the Reid Park Zoo.

For more information, or to register online, go to www.walkmsarizona.org or call 325-0755.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net