FARMINGTON — Staff with the San Juan Center for Independence embraced the rush of ice cold water on Thursday morning as they participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds for ALS research.

A video of that challenge joins hundreds of others that have been uploaded to the Internet this summer as the viral sensation has taken over social media. To complete the challenge, people dump a bucket of ice-cold water on their heads and then challenge others to do the same in the next 24 hours or make a donation to fight ALS.

As of Thursday morning, people participating in the challenge have raised $48.1 million for The ALS Association, said Kerrie Copelin, executive director of the association's New Mexico chapter.

Branda Parker, executive director of the San Juan Center for Independence, prepares a bucket for the Ice Bucket Challenge on Thursday at the nonprofit in
Branda Parker, executive director of the San Juan Center for Independence, prepares a bucket for the Ice Bucket Challenge on Thursday at the nonprofit in Farmington. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

"Our hope is this really has started a conversation so people have a better understanding of what ALS is," Copelin said.

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease causes the brain to lose the ability to communicate with and control the muscles in the body.

The San Juan Center for Independence was founded by people with disabilities to help people with disabilities maintain their independence.

The nonprofit's executive director, Branda Parker, challenged six of her staff members to take the cold water bath. Parker said she was interested in starting an effort in this area to raise awareness of ALS.

Receptionist Laura Sowells and Emin Chee, peer support program facilitator, were two of the six people who participated in the challenge.

Sowells described the water poured on her as nice, refreshing and cold. Chee said it was chilling, but he was alert afterward.

"A little part of me wanted to be part of this movement," Chee said. "I think more research and a cure would benefit from all these donations coming in."

Now, the San Juan Center for Independence has challenged several other nonprofits and people to take the challenge: the Arc of San Juan County and People Assisting the Homeless, as well as Laura Pate of San Juan College, James Boushee of Farmington High School and Darrel Snook of Glyphic Web Design and Development Inc.

Parker said the center has also donated $100 to Team Gleason, an ALS nonprofit organization founded by Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saint football player diagnosed with the disease.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.