Meet Marisa Barnas, Mokena Patch's Person of the Year
Patch readers voted in December to select Barnas as Patch's Person of the Year. The community organizer sat down recently with Patch to discuss her work coordinating events to benefit Rachel Swallow.
Editor's note: Mokena Patch readers voted in December to select Marisa Barnas as Mokena Patch's Person of the Year. To learn more about Barnas and her local fundraising efforts, read our Person of the Year profile below.
When it comes to fundraising, Mokena resident Marisa Barnas is an unstoppable force.
In the past year, Barnas has raised more than $100,000 for the Swallow family, whose youngest child, Rachel, spent much of the past year in a paralyzed state.
The Barnas and the Swallow families know each other well — they live just one block apart in the Tara Hills subdivision and their children are friends.
Last March, Rachel, who would be a sixth grader at Hilda Walker Intermediate School this year, developed a fever that worsened rapidly. When tests came back negative, E.R. doctors diagnosed Rachel with a severe case of the flu. Then, a few days later, Rachel’s mother, Kris, couldn’t wake her up.
For months afterward, Rachel was in out of consciousness, staying at one children’s hospital, then another. Doctors were unable to determine a diagnosis, but say that Rachel’s body attacked the coating around her nerves, making it difficult for her to move.
After six rounds of chemotherapy, two rounds of plasmapheresis and an IVIG, Rachel is now back home in Mokena and able to move her extremities. With physical therapy, doctors believe she may make a full recovery.
However, the past year has not been easy for the Swallow family.
“We don’t realize every day how truly blessed we all are until something like this happens,” said Barnas. “You can’t change it, but you can at least alleviate some of the pain.”
Barnas began organizing events for the Swallow family in May, with Ribbons for Rachel. Mothers and children gathered to craft and sell hairbands, flip-flops, bookmarks and bracelets that were decorated with ribbons.
The effort, which raised more than $3,000, was initiated by Rachel’s friends and facilitated by Barnas and several other neighbors.
“It really brought the kids together,” said Barnas. “It was a good lesson in friendship.”
A few months later, Barnas held a garage sale to benefit Rachel. With the help of several community members who donated items to sell, she raised another $3,000.
Barnas helped cultivate a partnership between Hilda Walker and the Frankfort Area Jaycees in October. The two groups worked together to host Raising it for Rachel, a family fundraiser at Hilda Walker that included games, crafts, grilling, a bake sale and a raffle. In total, Raising it for Rachel brought in $10,000.
The most recent fundraiser for the Swallow family, For the Love of Rachel, was attended by more than 1,000 people and raised almost $100,000. Irish dancers and three lives bands performed during the event, which was organized by a team of the Swallow’s family and friends. Almost all of the services and supplies for the fundraiser were donated.
Kris told Patch that when Barnas hosts a fundraiser for the family, she posts pictures and posters of Rachel throughout the venue to remind attendees of the reason for the event.
When Rachel was in the hospital, Barnas would visit the family, delivering food and care packages. She also helped establish the For the Love of Rachel account, a donation account for the Swallows at Fifth Third Bank. A core group of friends, neighbors and family members, including Barnas, have taken on smaller projects to help the Swallows, such as selling wristbands and coffee and bringing meals to the family.
“She’s just a wonderful person,” said Kris.
In addition to her work fundraising for Rachel, Barnas participates in Relay for Life with her workout group at Curves of Frankfort. The group coordinates food drives and coffee sales for local schools as well.
Every spring, Barnas takes on the task of collecting candy and baskets for the Diocese of Joliet, so that children in need can receive a basket on Easter.
For Barnas, it’s about giving back.
“We’re all one big community,” she said.
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