By Lisa Capobianco
When Southington native Kevin Salerno became diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2009, he wanted to find a way to help raise money for research, hosting events and getting involved with MS Society by participating in annual walks and the 5K course “MuckFest.”
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, disabling disease that threatens the central nervous system, and affects every individual differently, according to the National MS Society. Last year, Salerno took the first oral medication on the market to fight the disease, and since then, his condition has improved, allowing him to live a normal life.
“I can do pretty much every thing,” said Salerno, who has work experience with software development, designing and building enterprise applications and systems. “I consider myself lucky.”
Although Salerno considers himself fortunate, he recognized that other victims of MS may not be, so he hopes to help other individuals who may be seriously affected by MS.
Along with his long-time childhood friend Aaron DiCaprio, Salerno found another way to give back to the MS Community through a crowdfunding platform called “Support Local Stuff.”
Supportlocalstuff.com is a fundraising website that helps individuals and organizations raise money for various causes, while donating a portion of the proceeds of each campaign to the MS Society. From medical procedures to paying bills to weddings and school field trips, users can create an online campaign for any cause, using social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to solicit donations.
“We are excited to get this moving,” said DiCaprio, a licensed attorney who launched the website with Salerno last May. “There are, unfortunately, a lot of tragedies going on these days,” added Salerno. “Now there are online platforms to help people out.”
With just a few clicks, users or organizations can create fundraising campaigns, fundraising events and giveaways. For instance, they can create a campaign by setting up a goal, duration, custom url, content and a PayPal account. Once users set up the campaign, they can promote their cause through simple social sharing with their networks via e-mail or posting a printable version anywhere future donors can view it. They can also use the website’s social sharing tools. Throughout the duration of the campaign, users can track the progress of the received donations to determine how close they get to their goal.
“This for me has been outstanding,” said Salerno, adding how proud he feels to help people in the community while supporting a cause that hits home for him. “It is altruistic. We want to help people,” added DiCaprio, who has participated in Bike MS: City to Shore Ride event in New Jersey, cycling 100 miles from Cherry Hill to Ocean City. “It hits close to home.”
Research has shown the success of crowdfunding websites over the past few years. In 2012, the worldwide crowdfunding volume increased to $2.8 billion raised over one million campaigns, accelerating by an annual growth rate of 81 percent compared to 64 percent in 2011, according to the 2013 Crowdfunding Industry Report. DiCaprio and Salerno said donating online serves as a convenient and quick way to giving back to the community.
“These platforms have been growing substantially,” DiCaprio said. “People really were not aware that they could do this,” added Salerno.
Currently, Support Local Stuff has raised a total of $1,000 for the National MS Society. Both Salerno and DiCaprio hope to contribute more to MS as more users become aware of their platform, with the goal of helping find a cure in the future.
“As we grow, those numbers can increase,” Salerno said. “I would like to put an end to this disease.”
Although Salerno and DiCaprio live in two different states, they have found a balance between their personal lives and continuing their mission to help fight MS with their website. The long-time friends make an effort every day to devote a portion of time meeting together via social media to discuss the website. Recently, they also hired a social media freelancer to help out.
“It is definitely a challenge,” said DiCaprio, who lives in Pennsylvania. “This is a side venture for us,” added Salerno, who lives north of Boston. “It takes up a lot of time.”
Although DiCaprio and Salerno only see each other a few times a year, their friendship has strengthened through their collaboration on the website together.
“It gives us an opportunity to grow our friendship,” Salerno said.