TUCSON, Ariz. — After personally raising more than $20,000 by reading books for the Muscular Dystrophy Association — and with her show-stopping singing performance on the 2010 Telethon — the charismatic and talented Abbey Umali left no doubt that she is more than up to the task of serving another term as MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador.
Her appointment to a fourth term in this role has been announced by Gerald C. Weinberg, MDA president & CEO.
“This is really exciting because no one has ever done it for four straight years,” said Umali, an 11-year-old from Redlands, Calif. “And there have only been two people who have done it for three years. Now this! It’s great and I appreciate it.”
She has described her position as “the best job in the world’’ and continues to feel that way because, “I love to help people, it's fun to meet everybody, and I love to fundraise.’’
The fundraising is evident by her $20,555 contribution to open the donations for the 2010 Telethon. She raised the money by reading 50 books for a read-a-thon benefiting MDA. After the donation at the Telethon, she said, “nobody is too young to do good for somebody else.”
Telethon co-host Jann Carl said Umali is an “inspiration” to today’s youth.
“It makes me happy to do this because I know it’s going to make a lot of people really happy,” Umali said. “It’s for people who are going to need it.”
Clearly, Umali has had an impact traveling the country to talk about MDA. “I try to help my friends at school understand,” she said. “I try to make everyone understand about MDA and the great work it does.”
Abbey, who has a form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), one of the 40-plus muscle-damaging diseases in MDA’s program, was chosen for the honor not only because of her winning smile, sweet personality and great singing voice, but also because she works hard to overcome the challenges she faces, and is a poised and articulate spokeswoman for MDA.
“MDA is fortunate to have a national goodwill ambassador as dedicated and talented as Abbey,” Weinberg said, “and we’re proud to announce that she’s accepted our invitation to serve an unprecedented fourth term.”
Mattie J.T. Stepanek (2002-2004) and Paul Carter Hawkins (1965-67) each served three terms.
As she has in her previous stints as goodwill ambassador, Abbey spent 2010 crisscrossing the country with her parents, Joel and Wendi Umali. She spoke at numerous MDA functions, danced in an MDA “Flash Mob” event, conducted a marathon read-a-thon, participated in fundraising events, and even opened the Telethon — the first time a child has had that honor. It was no surprise, Umali impressed everyone with her 70-second opening.
She later brought the audience to tears with a heart-rending version of the song “Ordinary Miracle.” (See Abbey’s 2010 Telethon performance).
“We are so proud of Abbey,” Wendi said. “She takes her job very seriously. She really truly loves it. As a parent, that’s the best thing, seeing your child embrace helping others and love doing it. She feels it is her calling to do this.”
Even more ubiquitous than the real-life Abbey were the photos and images of her smiling face on tens of millions of brochures, in-store displays, Shamrocks mobiles, and other MDA awareness, fundraising and public health education materials.
When not making appearances for MDA, Abbey is a top student with plans to become a veterinarian or work for MDA. She enjoys swimming, dancing, bike riding, singing, reading, acting and knitting. She also likes games, puzzles, animals and spending time with her family.
Abbey’s neuromuscular disease (CMT) causes muscle weakness, lack of coordination and loss of sensation in the upper and lower extremities. She walks with the help of leg braces.
CMT is one of the more than 40 neuromuscular diseases in MDA's program. MDA is the nonprofit health agency dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and related diseases by funding worldwide research. The Association also provides comprehensive health care and support services, advocacy and education.