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Joel Cencius

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Join me in my efforts to support Arthritis Foundation Upper Midwest Region-Wisconsin!

My story begins at age four. I was trick-or-treating with my family and suddenly collapsed in pain, unable to move. Every inch of my body felt like a million little needles poking me everywhere. My mom had to carry me home, me screaming in pain. That began a two-year crusade for my Mom as she fought to find out what was causing this debilitating pain. I never remembered what I dressed as for Halloween that year, but I will never forget the pain of my first flare up. After years of fighting with doctors and specialists, as many overlooked my symptoms and downplayed my mom’s serious concerns (I remember even being put in a leg cast for no reason and to this day I think it was the Doctor’s way to appease my mom), at age six I was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). And so my journey began – the OT/PT appointments, daily excersise routines and night splints, trips to specialist after specialist, new medicine after new medicine, living with the side effects of said medicines, always feeling the need to explain myself because by appearance I don’t “look sick,” having to say NO to a lot of things as a child because my body would not allow it and then learning as an adult how to find ways to say YES – my arthritis has become very much a part of who I am, but in no way have I allowed it to control who I became.

My JRA affects most of the joints in my body and thanks to aggressive treatment upon diagnosis I had been stable for many years until a severe flare up in late 2015 required I go back on multiple medications. Although I have to take powerful medications including monthly infusions, I still consider myself lucky because enhancements in medications has allowed me to do most activities in moderation.

At the age of eight, I was introduced to this wonderful place called Camp M.A.S.H. (Make Arthritis Stop Hurting), the Upper Midwest Region’s six-day residential camp for kids with arthritis. From ages 8-17, I was a camper and have since taken on volunteer roles as intern for the mini camp program, camp counselor, and as a part of the camp’s planning committee for seven years. 2017 will mark my 11th year as camp staff.

Beyond camp, I have maintained a close relationship with the Arthritis Foundation, volunteering and serving as a spokesperson both at the regional and national levels. I am always willing to tell my story to help raise money and awareness for arthritis programs and research and in hopes I will help someone else struggling with this diagnosis. I have been an especially strong advocate for young adults with JA and on numerous occasions, have spoken and been a resource for young adults who are transitioning from pediatric to adult care.

On the national level, I was a member of the Juvenile Arthritis Alliance Leadership Group (JAALG) from 2009-2011. I have also traveled to Washington D.C. as part of the Advocacy Summit to help lobby for the Arthritis Prevention, Control and Cure Act. For four years, I volunteered for the national JA Conference, serving as a panel speaker and a PAL (Program Activity Leader). Simply put, I would not be where I am today or the person I am without the Arthritis Foundation!

I received my bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch University in 2006. Since graduating college I have built a career around service to others, serving in nonprofit operations and fundraising roles. I am currently the Director of Development and Communications for St. Joan Antida High School, located in downtown Milwaukee.

My life motto: “Always, Dare to Dream” ~ Never let any obstacle, big or small stand in the way of achieving your dreams!

Join my DREAM TEAM at the 2017 Run/Walk to Irish Fest and help me as we raise funds to one day find a cure for Arthritis!
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Special Thanks to:
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