Music, balloons, enthusiastic greeters and booths set in a large circle welcomed more than 700 participants to the Tacoma Walk to End Alzheimerâ€™s at the University of Puget Sound. Family members, support staff and friends gathered on Sept. 11 with a common cause: To raise awareness and funds to end Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
Alexander Sokoll, communications and outreach coordinator for the Alzheimerâ€™s Association in Washington, said, â€œNot only did we hit our fund-raising goal, but we broke a record for the walk in Tacoma. Folks had a great time.â€
The walk is held each year in more than 600 communities nationwide â€“ Bremerton is another one – and all money thatâ€™s raised helps support care and research efforts.
Becca Verda, marketing manger for the Washington chapter of the Alzheimerâ€™s Association, said participants at the walk in Tacoma learned about Alzheimerâ€™s disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical studies enrollment, support programs and services. The participants also honor those affected by Alzheimerâ€™s disease with the poignant Promise Garden ceremony.
The fund-raising goal was $157,000 was topped at $158,000, with donations still being accepted through the end of 2016. According to Verda, last yearâ€™s event raised over $107,000.
The Washington chapter, which has been hosting walks for nearly 30 years, â€œis one of the founding chapters of the Alzheimerâ€™s Association network, and we have been present in Washington since the 1970s, when a group of caregivers started talking to each other and got together when they needed more support and services. It has grown since then, and now we are a national organization with over 50 chapters across the U.S.,â€ said Verda.
Families gain much needed support and make new friendships through the Alzheimerâ€™s Association.
Karen Marez Johnson, who had a team at the Tacoma walk last month, helped her dad care for her mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s disease. â€œI was a single mom and a full-time teacher during this process but only lived about 20 minutes away, so I could be there to help,â€ she said.
Johnsonâ€™s dad was dealing with a cancer diagnosis of his own and was extremely grateful for her help as they teamed up to care for their loved one.
â€œMom was diagnosed in 2008, and we lost her in October 2014,â€ said Johnson.
Her parents had been married one week shy of 58 years when Johnsonâ€™s mom passed away.
â€œShe was his high school sweetheart, his bride, and he took great pride in taking care of her. I tried to be there to support him,â€ Johnson said.
Johnsonâ€™s Walk to End Alzheimerâ€™s team was named My Sunshine, and her jazzy hat carried a photo of her mom in her garden. The teamâ€™s nine participants included her 18-year-old son, Trey, who said he visited his grandmother once a week.
Although their journey was difficult, Johnson is grateful for all the support she received and new friendships she has made through the Alzheimerâ€™s Association.
â€œYou can find joy in the journey no matter how heartbreaking it is,â€ she said.
Tracy Kirke, whose mom, Viana Perry, died in 2008 from Alzheimerâ€™s, led a team called Memory Gladiators along with co-captain Trish Cross, whose dad lives in an adult family home.
Kirke credits the Alzheimerâ€™s Association and the friends she has made there for supporting her through the struggle.
â€œI felt alone and helpless, and then got involved. It made me feel better when I could do something,â€ she said.
Lisa Beiermann, whose mom died of Alzheimerâ€™s at age 76, said she misses her every day.
â€œShe and I were best friends, and it was sad to see such a smart, strong person lose her memory and her dignity,â€ Beiermann said.
Beiermannâ€™s team was nicknamed Carolynâ€™s Rocking Angels, in honor of her momâ€™s love of Elvis Presley.
Joan Cronk, who wrote this article,
is a freelance writer.