Lara Blume McGee’s whimsical and heartfelt leadership of ALS in Wonderland guarantees an opulent escape to Neverland at its upcoming event.
By Jessica Dyer | Photography by Meredith Melody | Dress & Accessories provided by Barbara/Jean | Hair by Cody Dunbar with Alexander’s Salon | Makeup by Suzanne Lewis with Alexander’s Salon
Lara Blume McGee’s most valued lessons came from her father’s kindness. “He would hire, feed and shelter homeless men off the streets of Little Rock,” she recalls. “And when I say feed and shelter, I mean they were eating dinner at the table with us and sleeping in spare quarters we had. My father had faith in others and believed in giving to everyone. In result, it’s one of my core beliefs.”
These values inspired Lara’s entrepreneurial spirit – not only as founder of Team Up World, a sports nonprofit management company, but as director of the Coin Up app, which creates incremental donations through the pocket change from daily purchases and ultimately, as visionary for the nonprofit ALS in Wonderland.
Lara and her father, Richard, established ALS in Wonderland in 2013. He was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, and Lara moved back home from California to be with her family. She was devastated by the change in his physical capacity, “My father was once a very strong, active and athletic man,” Lara recalls, “seeing what ALS did to him was heartbreaking.”
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a nervous system disease that causes gradual debilitating muscle weakness, decreased physical function and death. It inhibits the victim’s ability to control the muscles required to move, speak, eat and breathe – all while being completely present mentally.
Richard’s atrophy started in his hand – his first ALS symptom appeared when he could not grip his golf club. Although ALS affects everyone differently, in every scenario it inevitably leads to a constant caregiver – usually family members. “My father had to trust me, my mom or a hired caregiver to feed him, move him or bathe him – everything needed assistance. There is little dignity left when you have ALS.” Richard died in 2015, exceeding the average life expectancy of two to five years.
It’s his legacy that keeps Lara’s devotion to the ALS in Wonderland mission steadfast – creating awareness and funding that benefit PALS (Persons with ALS) in Arkansas. “I made a commitment to continue our work until my last breath,” Lara says. “ALS is not a fun disease, but I want our PALS to know: You are alive! You are here! And you don’t have to stop living or feeling!”
This whimsical spirit of optimism is the essence of the ALS in Wonderland Foundation’s annual fundraiser, this year titled “ALS in Wonderland presents Neverland.” The Peter Pan-themed event will sprinkle pixie dust over the Albert Pike Masonic Center for an evening of couture fashion, fantasy-filled artwork, mermaids serving champagne and as if that isn’t lavish enough – custom handcrafted hats.
Renowned as “Mad Hatters,” a mere six volunteers created more than 300 hats for premiere access guests. Each can choose their very own hat inside the Mad Hatter Lagoon. There will also be a photo deck and props to capture the glamour of the night.
The fairy tale ending of this magical evening leaves a lasting impression. “All proceeds benefit Arkansas PALS,” Lara boasts, “ALS in Wonderland is operated solely by volunteers; so all of our proceeds go to the cause.” The ALS in Wonderland Foundation supports more than 45 PALS in Arkansas. It provides monthly gift checks, equipment exchange, wheelchair van transportation, home modifications and more.
Lara has lived in Miami, New York City and Southern California, but sentimentally considers Little Rock home. “This is where it all began,” she smiles, “This is where I met my husband and started my family. My inspiration comes from knowing that my place on Earth is to serve others, and I’m grateful to Arkansas for giving me what I have always desired.”
GETTING TO KNOW LARA
Favorite Peter Pan Character: Peter Pan – he lives forever
Favorite Hat: a floppy brimmed fedora
Philosophy to Live by: “Live your life with purpose.”