By Joanne Shriner, Staff Writer
That’s the motto of Operation Shooting Star, a local organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autoimmunity and its diseases while being committed to sending 100 percent of fundraising efforts directly to research.
Operation Shooting Star Director Audrey Killen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in November of 2009 and her father was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2006.
Upon finding out of her own diagnosis, she immediately dived into serving the cause of funding research to find a cure.
“Basically right after my diagnosis I needed something positive to focus on,” Killen said.
After volunteering with other organizations, she found that she was capable of planning and organizing her own drive to find a cure while donating 100 percent of the funds raised, and that is how Operating Shooting Star was formed.
“I just want to focus on helping people find a cure,” Killen said. “I don’t want to manage the disease. I just want to fix it.”
After speaking with her doctor and Director of Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Dr. Walter Royal III and the Director of Development Darren Parker, she was steered in the right direction to being fundraising.
In creating Operation Shooting Star, Killen began to wonder what the connection was between MS and her father’s condition of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Upon doing research, she found it came down to autoimmune diseases.
“We have the same exact disease. It is just that our immune systems is attacking different parts of our body,” she said, explaining there are over 80 different autoimmune diseases. “The problem is your immune system is not only doing what it is supposed to be doing, fighting viruses and bacteria, but it is also fighting the good stuff and it is fighting against you.”
With the help of Killen’s family, friends and co-workers, they were able to pin down a space at Trader Lee’s in West Ocean City for their first event in November of 2010. They raised close to $5,000 through ticket sales, a bake sale and a silent auction. All items involved with the benefit were donated so that 100 percent of the fundraising could be given to the University of Maryland with no expenses deducted.
“The whole community came together,” Killen said. “That is what really started it. It was like now we know we can do it, and it is possible to do things at no expense and get donations and to have people come together.”
Killen presented a check from that event to the University of Maryland in 2010. Royal and Parker gave her and her husband a tour of the research lab.
“We could actually see what the money was going towards,” Killen said. “We shook hands with the people in the white coats, and they … took off their gloves and showed us what they were doing, it was just that intimate.”
Throughout this year, Killen and her team spent most of their time developing Operating Shooting Star’s non-profit status, but they were still able to put on a number of fundraisers including Pour for a Cure at the Cottage Café and the next night served hot chocolate at the Berlin Christmas Parade.
Through those and other events, the organization was able to raise over $4,000, which was presented to the University of Maryland this past weekend.
“One hundred percent of the money that we raised on all those things went into the account and I am going to dump the account, write a check and give it to the University of Maryland,” Killen said last Friday.
Killen and her team, including her “go to girls”, Assistant Director Amanda Evans, Alina Mellinger and Heather Shingleton, are already working on this upcoming year’s fundraisers. They are in collaboration with Bayside Golf Course for an event to be held on Sept. 2, 2012.
“It is going to be our biggest fundraiser, and hopefully it will be every year,” Killen said.
The day will include a fun day of golf followed by an after party with dinner, live entertainment and a silent auction. Also, Royal plans to be on hand as guest speaker.
“What I learned in a community like this is it is very generous and people care, and that made a huge difference – being in this community,” Killen said