In honor of her father, Rancho Santa Fe resident spearheads large fundraiser for ALS research

By Karen Billing

As the director of operations for Redfearn and Associates, Rancho Santa Fe resident Ashley Constans organizes and oversees dozens of events every year for local non-profits. But one she is planning for January is especially close to her heart — a benefit concert event to fundraise for Lou Gehrig’s disease/ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in honor of her father, Rancho Santa Fe resident John Constans, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2011.

“Flying for a Cure — Reach New Heights to Cure ALS” will be a concert featuring musician Tristan Prettyman on Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla Aventine. The evening’s flying theme is a nod to Captain John Constans’ 30-plus year career as a Navy. PSA and US Airways pilot.

The funds raised at Flying for a Cure will go toward Team Godfather, an organization founded in memory of Mike Ramirez, who died of ALS on April 12 this year.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a progressive disorder that causes permanent paralysis and destroys nerve cells that control muscle movement. Some 5,600 Americans are diagnosed every year and people typically live three to five years after diagnosis. There is currently no cure or treatment for this disease.

John Constans was diagnosed in July of last year.

“It’s the worst thing that has ever happened to any of us,” Ashley said.  “I’m not going to sugar coat it; it’s the cruelest disease there is because your mind is still super sharp but your body just complexly deteriorates.”

It is very difficult for Ashley to see her father in a wheelchair, using a BiPAP breathing mask—her athletic father who was an accomplished pilot and a handyman who “could do anything.”

“That’s all been taken away from him,” Ashley said. “It’s not fair at all.”

The Constans family has a close connection with Team Godfather as its chairman Greg Sacks has known John and his wife Lynn for over 30 years.

While they hadn’t kept in touch all that time, he heard that John had been diagnosed and took the opportunity to reach out to him and his family through Team Godfather, inviting them to their annual Groovin for a Cure event at the Belly Up.

“I was so amazed with Team Godfather,” Ashley said. “We’ve gotten the most resources and avenues through Team Godfather than any other ALS-based organization over the last six months or so.”

Ashley knew she wanted to get involved and do something to help find a cure for ALS and thought Team Godfather would be the perfect partnership. With help from her business partner, Steve Redfearn, they set about planning a concert event.

Once Ashley got her best friend Prettyman to headline, they were “off and running.”

The event will feature a cocktail and appetizer happy hour with offerings from restaurants such as Urban Solace, Sbicca, Pacifica, Crush and Campine. A live and silent auction will feature over 20 autographed guitars from bands that have toured through San Diego.

Inside the ballroom there will be a buffet-style dinner, live auction and The Paul Cannon Band will kick off the entertainment for the evening, followed by Prettyman.

The live auction features a VIP concert package from Valley View Casino Center, chef’s table dinners at local restaurants, condos in Lake Tahoe and Park City, and more.

Ashley hopes Flying for a Cure can become an annual event for Team Godfather, which started up two and a half years ago when Ramirez was diagnosed.

“It’s really amazing. Since our inception we’ve raised over $500,000 and we’re just a grassroots community organization,” said Sacks, who was one of Mike’s best friends. “Mike’s goal was to raise $1 million. We’re halfway there and we’re not going to stop once we get there. Our momentum couldn’t be better.”

Of the 14-member Team Godfather volunteer board, Sacks said all would tell you that it’s their second full-time job, something that they have all taken on because of their love for Mike and what he meant to them.

All of Team Godfather’s funding goes to the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass., a lab founded by James Allen Heywood after his younger brother was diagnosed with ALS. It became the world’s first non-profit biotechnology organization.

“They’re not a big pharmaceutical company, they’re not in it for the pay day, they’re in it for the cure,” Sacks said.

Sacks said they believe that ALS is not an incurable disease, but an under-funded one and that Team Godfather can make a difference by getting the funds to the right place.

“There’s hope. It’s going to happen. There’s more people working on it now, more studies being done,” Sacks said. “We’ve seen significant changes in the level of care for ALS patients and the hope is that a cure is not that far off.”

In November, Team Godfather held its first annual Bike for Mike bike race event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds that Sacks said was “phenomenal” and far exceeded their expectations.

Sacks said they were able to reach a whole new audience with the Bike for Mike event and are looking forward to expanding their reach even further with Flying for a Cure.

“This is a great opportunity because of the network that Redfearn and Associates has. So far there’s been a great response to it and I think things are going very well,” Sacks said. “Ashley is to be commended. This is a labor of love for her; it’s so close to her heart.  ALS is such a family disease. It affects everyone.”

Tickets to Flying for a Cure can be purchased online at teamgodfather.org. For table sponsorship details or questions, contact Ashley Constans at Ashley@redfearnassociates.com.

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