BEACON FALLS — In 2009, Ryan Matthews got life-changing news from his mother, Susan. She was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Just as Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor, dedicated the rest of her life towards ALS research, Matthews has vowed to do the same for his mother ever since the disease took her life in 2011.
Matthews founded The Susie Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money to assist people from Connecticut who have been diagnosed with ALS, as well as their families.
“It was a really simple choice,” said Matthews, a Beacon Falls native who also serves as executive director of the foundation. “I could have dealt with my mother’s death in my own little way, like by myself … or I could open up to the world and help others who are in a similar circumstance.”
The foundation has raised tens of thousands of dollars since its inception, thanks largely to one special event.
On Aug. 6, The Susie Foundation will host the fourth annual Susie Classic kickball tournament in Beacon Falls. The kickball tournament has become a huge fundraiser, not only in the Beacon Falls area, but in the entire state of Connecticut and beyond. Matthews said a kickball team from Boston signed up this year.
If everything goes as planned, Matthews said this year’s tournament should bring in about 225 participants. Matthews’ goal is to raise over $10,000, which is how much the tournament brought in last year.
“Hopefully, we are going to raise just as much money, if not more, than last year and keep growing the event, which is always the goal,” he said.
And Matthews has definitely seen this tournament grow over the past four years.
“This tournament started off four years ago with like 13 teams and raising like $4,000, which was good,” Matthews said. “But now we have 20 teams this year, and if things go correctly and we have a nice day, we are hoping to raise triple the amount that we raised four years ago.”
The foundation has grown along with the tournament.
“We are in a really good financial situation,” Matthews said. “Going back to when this organization started, we have raised over $70,000 to support ALS patients here in Connecticut. This year, we are very hopeful that we will be able to give between $12,000 and $15,000 directly to patients and their families.”
The continued success of The Susie Foundation has allowed the organization to run a second major fundraiser called Suzie Fest, which is a beer and music festival that will take place in September at the Two Roads brewery in Stratford.
Matthews also is planning for the future, investing money so that ALS patients know that they can rely on the organization for help.
“If our fundraising continues to take off, hopefully more and more money can go directly to patients and families while we are also taking the money and investing for years to come so that the Susie Foundation can be a solid community resource that ALS patients and families can rely on for a long time to come,” he said.
The Susie Classic kickball tournament is Aug. 6 at the Pent Road Recreation Complex, 100 Pent Road. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the tournament kicks off at 11 a.m. The tournament is open to anyone 16 years old and older. The registration fee is $30. For more information or to register, visit thesusiefoundation.org, or contact Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-217-4884.