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Edmonds Kiwanis 2013 Citizen of the Year – Bill Brayer


Bill Brayer, 2013 Edmonds Kiwanis Citizen of the Year

The Kiwanis 2013 Citizen of the Year is no stranger to many in Edmonds.

Bill Brayer founded and was Director and CEO of MS Helping Hands/Donor Closet (originally called Multiple Sclerosis Community Services) from its inception in 1999 until the end of September 2012.

“Bill is one of the most amazing people I have ever known,” friend Dick Van Hollebeke said. “He has more than enough reasons to reach out and seek the help of others since he has lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 59 years.

“But this 79-year-old man went in the opposite direction.”

That “opposite direction” was to dedicate himself to helping others affected with MS and other debilitating diseases.

MS Helping Hands/Donor Closet is a non-profit organization that helps those with special needs who have been denied help from Medicare, Medicaid, DSHS and insurance companies.

Donor Closet accepts donations of medical mobility items such as wheelchairs, electric hospital beds and other items. The items are reconditioned, cleaned and made available for others to use for a minimum cost, much lower than if bought new.

Brayer understood that many of these people were living on low income, were unemployed because of their medical conditions, and couldn’t afford to buy them new.

He decided that the Donor Closet would provide the items not just to people with MS as originally planned but to anyone who needed them.

No one is denied if they can’t afford the suggested minimum donation. Arrangements can usually be made to cover the minimum.

MSHH/Donors Closet is staffed by more than 50 volunteers, many of whom are disabled.

Brayer said he is proud that “92 to 96 percent of everything we receive from donations goes right back to helping others.”

Brayer’s fight for those with MS follows his own personal battle with the disease.

Hollebeke said that Brayer experienced symptoms for decades without an accurate diagnosis until 1987 when, after an eye injury caused by lack of control of his hand and arm, his eye doctor recommended Brayer go to a neurologist.

“It was only after the neurologist ran several tests that Bill was diagnosed with advanced MS,” Hollebeke said. “He had been living with the disease for more than 30 years without knowing what was wrong.”

He was eventually unable to run the reprographics business he owned and sold it.

But he wasn’t content sitting at home; he tried a number of other things, including a stint delivering the Edmonds Beacon.

“Never one to sit still for long, Bill founded the original MS Helping Hands and ran it out of his garage,” Hollebeke said.

“Many thousands of people have been able to achieve a higher standard of living and better quality of life because of the efforts of Bill Brayer.

“He is an extraordinary person who has given so much without ever asking for anything in return.”

And Hollebeke isn’t the only one to recognize the importance of Brayer’s work; he has been helping people not only locally, but all over the state of Washington.

MS Helping Hands/Donor Closet has received six grants totaling more than $30,000 from The MS Foundation in Florida, and grants from United Way of Snohomish County and the Boeing Employees Community Fund.

He was twice recognized as the Western Washington “NMSS Support Group Facilitator of the Year,” and has received other awards and recognition including:

  • 1997 – a Western Washington NMSS Certificate of Volunteer Appreciation Award;
  • 1998 – a Western Washington NMSS MS Walk Honoree” and was the first NMSS Walk Chair for Snohomish County who raised the most walk donations ever received by a first time community walk at that time;
  • 1999 – the Western Washington 1999 NMSS Achievement Award;
  • 2003 – one of five people in the State of Washington nominated for the Local 2003 National Jefferson Award. The Jefferson Awards are a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America and are presented on two levels, national and local;
  • 2006 – the MSF Top 20 People with MS list for National Recognition;
  • 2007 – the MSF National Outreach Leadership Award for 2007;
  • 2007 – a Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition from then Congressman Jay Inslee “in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community”;
  • 2008 – the Snohomish County Red Cross Humanitarian Award;
  • 2008 – nominated for the 2008 MSF National Super MS Hero Award and was one of many MS Heroes honored;
  • 2008 – nominated again for the Jefferson Award.

Organizations and people nationally, statewide and countywide have recognized the good Bill Brayer has done for people in need, and now, with the Kiwanis 2013 Edmonds Citizen of the Year award, he is being recognized locally for years of helping others.

The judging for the 2013 Citizen of the Year contest was especially close this year, with two others, Francine Colin and Betty Mueller, also being near the top of the nominees.

Brayer will be honored as the Kiwanis Citizen of the Year at the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Monthly Luncheon on Thursday, May 23 at 11:30 a.m. at the Edmonds Yacht Club.


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