This was the challenge the Arizona Republic newspaper gave to the people of Phoenix Arizona over 60 years ago. “All around the country a horrible disease was making children sick. Polio was a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system. In the 1940’s people were terrified of it. Nobody knew how it was spread or why some were spared. Most of the victims were children.
A national organization was created to help find a cure. There was little funding and the chapters were run by volunteers. The Phoenix chapter turned to the local newspaper for help. They asked Charley Hoover, ad director, if he could find some advertisers to help out. There was another reason they chose Charley. His little boy Tom had polio.
He wanted to help yet didn’t know how to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time. He went into Tom’s room to say goodnight. He turned on the light to talk with him. That’s when the idea was born.
The plan was simple like all good plans are. He would collect all the money he needed in just one night. At that time Phoenix was still a small town. So he blitzed the town with flyers and posters. There were radio ads and newspaper stories. All the promotional pieces said: turn on your porch light, fight polio tonight.”
It was a time of great fear and confusion; but not on this night. This night was about having hope and fighting back. On January 16, 1950, a huge fundraising effort was held to help the campaign to eradicate polio. If people wanted to give money they turned on their porch light. At 7pm air-raid sirens wailed and klieg lights blazed across the sky
As the sirens blared a group of marchers prepared to take to the streets. They had a plan and if it worked it would be remarkable. It could make a difference. But first, they needed to see a sign. Across the valley, porch lights began to flicker on. The light replaced the darkness”.
An army of volunteers, all mothers, marched into the streets to collect the money. One mother per block would go door to door. If someone was in an apartment or hotel room they were asked to hang a shoe on their door knob to let the collectors know they wanted to give. Edith Jordan, now 94, remembers that night. She turned her porch light on-“everyone did; everyone wanted to do their bit”.
At 8pm the sirens ran again and the campaign was over. All of the mothers took their collection to their local fire stations. And in the course of one night, in a city a fraction of the size it is now, the marching mothers collected $44,890.63 the equivalent of more than $400,000 today.
The people at the foundations national headquarters took notice. They sent a film crew to Phoenix and asked Charley Hoover to re-create all of the steps in the process. That film was then sent to every regional office in the country to show how they too, cold raise funds in just one night. “Phoenix has given you the pattern: You can do it!”
By the next year, the Mothers’ March was a national campaign. In 1953 more than $10 million was raised from the campaign. That money went to research including the field testing of a promising vaccine developed by a doctor named Jonas Salk. Within two years, new polio cases in the US dropped by 90%. The group that raised the money, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, soon changed its name. Today it is known as the March of Dimes”. ( John Faherty, Arizona Republic newspaper)
Light, simplicity, community. It takes one person to create the pattern of hope so others can (“SEE IT). What Charley did was truly remarkable. There are people doing things like this every day. They are the pioneers. The one’s who find a simple answer to a seemingly hopeless problem.
In this season of light there are endless possibilities for new ideas. I challenge myself and others to focus on solutions. I am weary of hearing about how awful everything is. I prefer to spend my “energy capital” thinking like Charley did. What switch can I turn on that will lead to a life changing idea? aRDIS