Duke ALS patient takes BIGG idea to community

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 03:24 PM

What does one do after his dream to hijack a Krispy Kreme truck becomes reality?

After leaving a trail of glaze and do-good inspiration in Durham last December, Duke Medicine patient Chris Rosati has kicked off a local challenge, encouraging Triangle-area students to dream big and help others.

The Big Ideas for the Greater Good (BIGG) Challenge is underway, collecting ideas from elementary, middle and high school students on ways they can inspire others. Rosati’s organization, Inspire MEdia, is in its infancy, but the goal is to connect students with resources they need to make their dreams a reality, whether they need money, celebrities or location access.

Rosati is living out his own dreams within a short time span. He has been diagnosed with a terminal disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It has no cure.

He visited his old school, Durham Academy, last fall and talked to students about his diagnosis and his “crazy, silly dream” to hijack a Krispy Kreme truck. About a month later, he rolled up in the parking lot in a 1960 Krispy Kreme Starliner bus.

“If you have an idea that’s worth pursuing, even if you don’t think it can happen, you may want to try it anyway,” Rosati said. “That gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction or happiness. And again, I’ll never forget that day.”

Inspire MEdia combines the impact of video storytelling with his commitment to charity. Rosati and his nonprofit will pick the 10 best ideas submitted by students and create professional videos about their projects. He said video topics could vary from random acts of kindness on city streets to anti-bullying awareness.

The BIGG Challenge organizers also plan to host a red-carpet screening party for the videos in June.

Rosati won’t reveal the ideas he’s received just yet, but he said the organization is working with multiple students, including one who’s also a Duke Children’s Hospital patient.

“The younger students don’t know yet what’s not possible,” Rosati said. “So it’s kind of refreshing to see their dreams and to be a part of helping make that happen. The older kids may have just become jaded by people … putting limits on what they can do. I would like to show some of them that the people telling you that may be wrong.”

Kirsten Venema, a friend of Rosati’s and an Ephesus Elementary School teacher, is bringing the challenge into her classroom.

She and Rosati attended Durham Academy together and played recreational league soccer. Every time they’ve crossed paths, she said, he’s full of humor and positive energy.

Instead of having her students participate in a poster contest focused on books or history, she said, this is their “blank contest.”

“You make it what you want it to be,” Venema said. “Nothing is too crazy to be considered or too out there.”

Laura Whayne was a year older than Rosati when they were enrolled at Durham Academy.

When Rosati visited the school last year, Whayne’s 12-year-old daughter, Lew Lew, was drawn to his story.

“It was hard for her to believe that he had something terminal,” Whayne said.

Lew Lew wanted to get involved in the challenge. She’s put together lemonade stands and participated in Girl Scouts. Her group of friends from Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill organized a video and shipped it off to the challenge.

“It’s a really big idea,” Whayne said. “I don’t know if it’s too big or not. … I raised both of my children to give back.”

Applications for the BIGG Challenge will be accepted through March 31. Finalists will be announced April 8. For information, visit www.inspiremedianetwork.org