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It’s hard to diagnose a disease when very few people even know it exists.

Shirley Cleaver of Huntingtown experienced this when she first started having problems with vertigo, balance and headaches, which eventually led to the diagnosis of Chiari malformation in December 2007.

The disease was described on the website Conquer Chiari as being “a serious neurological disorder where the bottom part of the brain, the cerebellum, descends out of the skull and crowds the spinal cord, putting pressure on both the brain and spine and causing many symptoms.”

Cleaver, 67, said it is her understanding that only 300,000 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disorder.

To raise awareness for the rare disorder, Cleaver is one of three organizers and the local contact for the first local Unite at Night Walk, which will be held June 9 on the North Beach boardwalk.

The proceeds from the walk will go toward The Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation Inc.

Cleaver said she is currently looking for both walkers and sponsors for the walk.

She said the goal is to raise $10,000 “but I’m hoping we raise more than that, of course.”

Cleaver said she suspects she has had the disorder her entire life.

“I could have been diagnosed over the years if people know what they were looking at. ... I could have gotten help sooner,” she said.

Cleaver had surgery for the disorder in July 2010, in which she said some of her rib bones were put into her skull.

She said the operation did not cure the disorder, but it did lessen some of its symptoms.

“When I woke up from surgery for the first time in a long time, I felt good,” she said.

The Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation also funds autism research as its website states that “recent data suggests a greater than expected overlap of findings in children diagnosed with Chiari Malformation and those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum of Disease.”

Cleaver said there is no registration fee for the walk but people who raise $25 will receive an aluminated balloon and people who raise $50 will receive a Unite at Night T-shirt.

Registration will begin at 6 p.m. and the walk will begin at 7:30 p.m.

For more information or to sponsor the walk, contact Cleaver at skyliners@msn.com, or call 301-651-0117.

If fourth graders were mayor

All Maryland fourth graders are invited to participate in the “If I Were Mayor…” essay contest, sponsored by the Maryland Municipal League to encourage children to think like a leader and have their opinions heard in the community. This year’s theme is “Meeting the Challenge.”

Participation is free and entries must be received by Friday, March 30. Each 275-word essay must open with the line “If I were Mayor, I would….” and answer three questions revolved around the 2012 theme, which is “Meeting the Challenge.” To apply, go to www.mdmunicipal.org/essay.

Rockin’ on the riverboat at Mardi Gras

This year’s United Way of Calvert County Mardi Gras will be from 7 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, at Holiday Inn Conference Center and Marina in Solomons.

A press release from the United Way said that the conference center will be designed to look like a riverboat along the Mississippi. Attendees will have the chance to bid on vacations, golf outings, athletic events and spa packages, in addition to trying a hand at the poker or roulette tables and earning a chance to win more than $7,000 in designer jewels, handbags and home accessories at the Maertens Jewelry Razzle Dazzle Raffle.

Tickets are $145 per person. For tickets, go to www.unitedwaymardigras.com, or call United Way of Calvert County at 410-286-0100 to make a reservation.

Calling all Girl Scouts

To those who have ever been a Girl Scout, Brownie, Daisy or Troop Leader, the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting is being celebrated on March 12 with “Wear Your Pin With Pride Day.”

According to a press release, on that date in 1912, founder Juliette Gordon Low held the first Girl Scout meeting in Savannah, Ga. To mark this day, the Girl Scouts of Calvert County 100th Anniversary Committee encourages all Girl Scouts current and former to wear a Girl Scout pin.

Help train future guide dogs

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is looking for local volunteers in its Maryland Puppy Raising Region to help train future guide dog puppies. All training, support and veterinary expenses are provided free of charge.

To learn more go to www.volunteer.guidingeyes.org. Bay puppy classes meet Thursday evenings. Please contact the organization’s Regional Manager Carrie Barnett for specific details at cbarnett@guidingeyes.org or 410-960-7427.

Women of the World to honor Girl Scouts

Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center will be the site of the 10th Anniversary of the Women of the World Luncheon and Awards Program honoring Calvert’s women and celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts.

The guest speaker, Jan Verhage, is the chief operating officer of Girl Scouts USA and immediate past CEO of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.

Reservations are required and must be paid in full by March 12. Tickets are $27 per person. To reserve a seat, mail checks to: League of Women Voters, P O Box 1510, Prince Frederick, MD 20678. For additional information, contact Anne Mychalus at 410-586-2176 or mychalus@verizon.net.

lbuck@somdnews.com