Volunteer gives voice to MS community
Walk into Stephanie Fisher’s cozy office, and the first thing you notice are stuffed toys scattered about and a water bowl on the floor. And in the corner, lying on a soft cushion with an adorably hopeful look on his face, is Fisher’s loveable yellow Labrador retriever, Paddington.
“Paddington loves people, and he’s such a mellow fellow,” Fisher said with a smile. “We call him ‘Mellow Yellow.’ ”
Fisher doesn’t bring Paddington into work every day just so he can keep her company, however. He’s a certified therapy dog whose assignment is to visit UCLA patients with multiple sclerosis — which makes perfect sense when you learn that Fisher is executive director of the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center at UCLA.
Fisher loves dogs, but she clearly loves people, too. She oversees several programs designed to help people with MS; for instance, the REACH to Achieve Program helps those who have been living with MS for some time and are facing one or more life challenges related to their MS symptoms.
Fisher does her job so well that in November, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the Southern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The organization said it chose her because she “gave voice to the MS community by being a strong advocate of long-term care by meeting with legislators and testifying for bills that address the needs of those with MS.”
For her part, Fisher — who also served as co-chair of UCLA’s Committee on Disability from 2005-08 — said she was “shocked” to receive the award.
“I said, ‘Now wait, what I do is my work
,’ but they said, ‘No, you’re here on weekends, you’re putting passion into other projects, you’re doing everything we ask of you. The director of the MS Achievement Center doesn’t have to do these things, but you do them because you want to,’ ” Fisher recalled. “That was such a nice compliment. I was very humbled and honored to receive the award.”
The middle child and only girl in a family of three (“We all went to UC Davis. We’re Aggies!”), Fisher’s first volunteer job was at an adult day health care center, where she worked with an occupational therapist to help people who had suffered strokes or traumatic brain injury.
“That was real eye-opening for me, that health care wasn’t something you did to
people; health care was a tool for people to use. And people needed to be a partner in their care,” Fisher said.
Later, Fisher got a job volunteering at the Gero-Psych Network, a geriatric-psychiatric outreach program in Sacramento that provided mental health outreach for psychiatrically compromised older adults in crisis. While working there, Fisher completed her master’s degree in psychology from Cal State University, Sacramento, and in 1995, she was hired as Gero-Psych Network’s first case manager.
In 1996, Fisher and her partner, Kirsten, moved to Southern California, where Fisher got a job as director of programs for the National MS Society’s Orange County Chapter. In February 2001, she joined the staff of UCLA’s MS Achievement Center.
Fisher is excited about a new program that the center recently launched — an online version of a popular 12-week course that began in 2002, called “Living Well with MS.” Geared specifically to people newly diagnosed with MS, the course helps people understand the disease and manage their symptoms by using a holistic approach.
“Working here has been an amazing opportunity for me because I’m getting to deploy all my passions,” said Fisher, who lives in Long Beach with Kirsten and their 2½-year-old daughter, Mattea. “It’s sort of hokey, but it’s not a job, it’s an avocation.
“I’ve met so many amazing people. I love that we can play a role in finding them ways to make changes in their lives, so they can improve themselves,” she added. “I love that the university embraces it, that it’s taking its expertise and sharing it with the community.”
Find more information on UCLA’s MS Achievement Center.
Go to the National MS Society’s Southern California Chapter
to learn more about MS.