September 2014Elizabeth and Mary do operatic Ice Bucket Challenge
In September, Mary and Elizabeth joined the millions of people worldwide who took the Ice Bucket Challenge to benefit research for amyelotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. When these cells die, muscle control and movement die with them. Patients in the later stages of the disease are totally paralyzed, yet in most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert. The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years after diagnosis.
The Ice Bucket Challenge "went viral" this summer as a way to support ALS research. Someone who is challenged has 24 hours to record a video of themselves having ice water dumped over their heads; they must then donate $10 to ALS research, or $100 if they fail to meet the challenge within the 24-period. As of September 2014, there were over 2 million such videos circulating on Facebook alone.
Because Elizabeth is an opera enthusiast (Mary less so), we chose an opera as the theme for our version of the Challenge. This brief excerpt from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is a nod to the production by Mary Zimmerman that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007, starring Natalie Dessay, and revived in 2009 for
We were late to the Ice Bucket Challenge "party" and are still putting the finishing touches on the video, so we are not challenging anyone else. We sent a donation to the ALS Association, and we urge others to do the same. Although this summer's Challenge raised approximately $115 million, more research is needed to understand, treat, and prevent this cruel disease. For more information or to donate, go to The ALS Association.
August 2014Massachusetts bike race benefits cancer research
In August, the Illies helped sponsor a team in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike race held each year to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year's race, held August 2-3, brought together some 5,000 cyclists from across the U.S.. The route covered up to 112 miles of Massachusetts terrain--through the mountainous northern part of the state or along the coast of Cape Cod out to the tip of Provincetown. To date, the PMC has raised more than $414 million for cancer research.
The PMC was started by Billy Starr, now the Executive Director, who was an avid cyclist and outdoorsman just graduating from college when his mother died of melanoma. In the wake of her death, he hiked the Appalachian Trail with some friends. The endurance, commitment, and mental energy needed for the trek gave the group the idea for the PMC. The race began in 1980, raising money for Dana-Farber through the Jimmy Fund, New England's most popular charity. Within 10 years, the PMC was the most successful cycling fund raiser in the world.
Teams opted for one- or two-day rides of varying degrees of difficulty (to see the routes, click here). Each rider helped raise funds by asking for donations from friends, family, and other sponsors.
When Baby Dilly heard about the bike race, he wanted to ride for cancer research too.
Sadly, he ended up in a bush.
So the Illies made a donation to their friends Team Cyclosaurass. The team chose the name because the riders describe themselves as being "mostly" older. They took the most difficult route--112 miles from Sturbridge to Bourne, with a total ascent of 2,500 feet. They wanted to show that anyone, young or "mostly" older, can still ride and raise funds! The bunnies think the name is hilarious, especially Silly.
100 percent of every rider-raised dollar goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which provides compassionate care for children and adults with cancer. The Institute also carries out research to understand cancer, find better treatments, and learn how to prevent the disease.You can make a general donation to either the PMC or the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund here.
July 2014Elephant freed after 50 years in chains
This year, the Fourth of July wasn't Independence Day only in America. On that day in Allahabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, an elephant named Raju took his first steps free from the cruel, spiked chains he'd worn for some 50 years--thanks to rescue workers with Wildlife SOS, an international rescue group dedicated to protecting animals and their environment in India.
"Raju had been working as a begging elephant in Allahabad. People would give the mahout [owner] tips in exchange for 'blessings' by Raju. Most of the food he got was inappropriate for an elephant. However, half starving, Raju would eat almost anything," writes "Nikki" on the Wildlife SOS blog. You can see pictures of Raju's journey on the blog (some of them are very painful to look at).
"Raju was chained with spike chains that made walking and movement very painful and left him with chronic wounds around his legs. Raju's life of 50 years begging all day in the hot heat with very little to eat was taking a terrible toll on him. He appeared to us to be exhausted and worn down. We worked with the U.P. Forest Department to get the permissions to have him transferred to Wildlife SOS and we asked [for donations] to help us rescue him," according to the blog.
Despite the mahout's resistance and Raju's own fears after so many years of abuse, the rescuers coaxed the elephant with fruit onto a truck bound for an elephant sanctuary, where a veterinarian spent 45 minutes taking the cruel chains off Raju's legs. You can see Raju taking his first free steps here. (Warning--parts of the video are also difficult to watch.)
The Illies learned of Raju's story when Snilly saw an article about it on her cellphone.
The Illies have sent a donation to Wildlife SOS to help Raju recover, but there's more to be done. Even though he's made it to the sanctuary, Raju is underweight, and his sores will need ongoing care. So Wildlife SOS still needs donations to help Raju and help fund their other activities. The elephant sanctuary especially needs a tractor to make big mounds of dirt for Raju to lie down on, since sick and wounded elephants can't get up and down from the ground easily, the website explains.
Some of the other elephants at the sanctuary are showing interest in Raju. He's also able to take showers now. This makes Frilly happy because she loves to sit in wet things and often jumps in the fountain in the garden.
Wildlife SOS was established in 1995 by a small group of individuals inspired to make lasting change to protect and conserve India's natural heritage, forests, and wildlife wealth. The organization is mainly known for rescuing "dancing bears," which are made to "dance" when their owners pull on ropes attached painfully to the animals' bodies. Wildlife SOS also has active projects to help leopards, elephants, reptiles, and other animals. They also work on projects targeted at environment and conservation efforts.
Wildlife SOS is a registered Non Profit Charity in India, USA, and UK. All funds donated to Wildlife SOS are transferred to India and are used for wildlife and environment protection, rescue and conservation projects. Ask your parents to donate online, or send checks to Wildlife SOS at: