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Non-Profit Spotlight

The Arthritis Foundation

“The only thing I knew about arthritis is that it’s something old people get, like Grandma having sore fingers after working in the garden,” remembers Ashley Smith. “But when I was fifteen, I began experiencing back pain that my doctors couldn’t explain.”

After three difficult years, the doctors had exhausted the possibilities and treatment options. “They told me, ‘We’ll do one more test, but after that we don’t know what to do with you.’ It was that test that led to my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis,” Ashley says.  

Her ignorance of juvenile arthritis was replaced with education and self-advocacy, and soon, even as she continued battling her disease with difficult treatments, Ashley began volunteering and advocating for others. Today, she’s a Development Manager for the Arthritis Foundation, working on behalf of local patients like herself, making a career out of fighting the painful disease. Arthritis is our nation’s number one cause of disability and its costliest disease, but from an awareness perspective, its severity and impact often fly under the radar.

Sitting downtown near Riverfront Park, surrounded by the colors and sights of the holiday season, Ashley remembers the moment she was able to connect two of her passions: Christmas and fighting rheumatoid arthritis.

“I was always participating in charity benefit events for other causes, so I looked up how to do that with arthritis,” she says. “I found out about the Inland Northwest Jingle Bell Run, which was just about to do its second annual 5K in Riverfront Park. I was so excited that I could combine my passions, because I love Christmas!”

The Jingle Bell Run was also a way for Ashley to meet others like her: before getting involved as a volunteer, she’d never interacted with any of the 300,000 young people in the U.S. who live with juvenile arthritis. Today, she has relationships with arthritis patients of all ages and their families, and she’s part of the team that puts on the race, which is on its eleventh year in Spokane. On Saturday, December 2, the park will once again be filled with runners and walkers (even dogs!) decked out in fun holiday costumes, enjoying a festive event for a great cause. Of course, for the more competitive runners, the only costume will be the event’s signature jingle bells on their shoes.

In addition to funding research and treatment for the disease, participants are jingling toward an $85,000 fundraising goal that also allows Ashley and the Foundation to put on informative and relational camps for kids and families who are living with arthritis. Having a community of understanding people to share the burden can be a very empowering part of a young patient’s treatment.  

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and serious disease with limited treatment options, many of which are very invasive — including chemotherapy. There is a nationwide (and local) shortage of rheumatologists to combat this widespread problem, making the Foundation’s awareness campaign that much more vital. INB is proud to support the work of the Arthritis Foundation and to be a sponsor of the Inland Northwest Jingle Bell Run. We invite you to jingle along with us for the sake of those affected by rheumatoid arthritis.