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Inspirational speaker highlights fundraiser in Willmar, Minn., to help women with struggles

WILLMAR — A Minnesota musician who carries his music in his head, heart and hands was nearly forced to give up his career as an acoustical guitarist because of a debilitating disease that affected the nerves in his right hand.

But instead of giving up when he was given the diagnosis of a little-known neuro-muscular disorder called focal dystonia, Billy McLaughlin defied his doctor’s orders and learned to play with his left hand.

McLaughlin’s comeback music career and his message of overcoming obstacles will be featured March 15 in Willmar during a St. Patrick’s Day-themed dinner and fundraiser for the Women’s Fund of the Willmar Area Community Foundation.

Called “One Story … Many Triumphs” McLaughlin’s story captures the purpose of the Women’s Fund, which is to help women and girls overcome struggles and have successful lives of “economic and social strength,” said Suzanne Napgezek, chairwoman of the Women’s Fund.

Napgezek said McLaughlin’s story                  of “unexpected roadblocks to his career” resonates with the challenges many women and girls experience that can be addressed through programs funded with donations from the Women’s Fund.

“It’s a good message for all of us because no one’s life is without setbacks,” she said.

In existence for seven years, the Women’s Fund has been providing grants since 2008 to local nonprofit organizations that provide support to women and girls “who are having significant struggles in their lives and giving them opportunities to be successful,” said Napgezek.

That support includes building up the self-esteem of girls who have been bullied, helping women obtain training for jobs or helping women over 50 who may be sick, abandoned, unemployed and too young to receive Social Security, said Napgezek.

They are the women who are “hidden in our community who could use some help,” she said. “We don’t necessarily see those struggles, but they’re out there.”

In 2012 the Women’s Fund gave $11,000 in grants to the Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office for the Restorative Justice Diversion Program and Circles of Support; the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota for the Rural Immigration Project; and the Girl Scouts program for local expansion.

In past years, the Women’s Fund held teas to serve as a forum to educate people about the new organization and to encourage women philanthropists to become involved with funding grants that help other women become successful.

“It really is for women to get together to help women,” she said.

But this year the decision was made to hold a larger event with an invitation to a broader community of people who see the value of making sure women and girls are safe, educated and have the tools to be contributing members of their community, said Napgezek.

The evening of entertainment and inspiration is an “opportunity to say, come join with us and participate with us,” she said.

Napgezek said the event will not include additional fundraising activities but will be a “beautiful evening” for couples, families and friends.

It includes a full dinner menu with appetizers, stuffed Cornish game hens and Irish mousse for dessert as well as the “inspiring” message and music of McLaughlin.

Irish music will also be provided by local performers: Maggie Harp, Bob Whitney, Andrew Rennecker and Sara Miller, and students from Colleen’s School of Dance will perform Irish dances.

The event will be from 6 to 9 p.m. March 15 at the Willmar Holiday Inn and Conference Center.

Tickets are $50 per person, with $20 of that tax-deductible.

The event has seating for 300. Napgezek said there is “still room,” but reservations need to be made by Friday.

For information about reservations go to

About Billy McLaughlin

Billy McLaughlin is recognized internationally as a world-class guitarist, composer and inspirational performer.

In 1999 his career ended because of a neuro-muscular disorder called focal dystonia.

After suffering several years without a cure, he re-learned how to play the guitar left-handed.

His comeback is captured in the PBS documentary film “Changing Keys” and a concert film called “Coming Back Alive.”

McLaughlin has resumed an international schedule of concert appearances and keynote speaking and now serves as Ambassador for Awareness for the Dy- stonia Medical Research Foundation.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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