Walk to End Alzheimer’s nears goal

Published 7:12 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Western Tidewater Walk to End Alzheimer’s has raised 85% of its goal and aims to reach 100% by the end of the year.

The walk was held Oct. 2 at YMCA Camp Arrowhead on Kenyon Road. Participants were able to come to the event, which had a different format this year so as to maintain physical distance, or were able to walk in their neighborhoods.

“We really did pretty well with our fundraising, considering the environment we were in,” said Gino Colombara, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Southeastern Virginia Chapter. “It was really very humbling to see that, and we’re off to a great start this year.”

Colombara added that the association was grateful.

“We’re grateful to the community of Suffolk, we’re grateful to the YMCA Camp Arrowhead for this beautiful location, and we’re grateful to all our walkers who, whether they’re walking in their neighborhoods or here with us today, are helping make a difference because they are truly making a difference to end this disease.”

Colombara said more than six million Americans are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as about 150,000 in Virginia. However, he said, “there’s a lot of hope on the horizon for research, and there’s a lot of hope in terms of helping people navigate the disease today and tomorrow.”

Jaime Parrish, the chairperson for the walk, said some of that hope is already motivating her to do all she does for the walk. Even though she has never had anyone in her immediate family with Alzheimer’s, she said research into a medication that appears to slow the progression of the disease gives her hope.

Jason Inge and Mechele Hairston volunteered at the walk, helping take team pictures. The motivation for each of them to participate came from their families — his uncle, who died in 2009, and her grandfather, who died in 2014.

“This is the first time I felt I was able to come out,” Hairston said.

Inge added: “Every step we take is a day toward a cure.”

Karla Kelly was also a volunteer at the walk.

“Those who came have been so positive,” said Kelly, who lost her mom to the disease about three years ago and now is watching her mother-in-law battle the disease.

The Oct. 2 walk featured two starting ceremonies, at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., to aid distancing and had hand sanitizer available. Joe Flanagan, formerly of WVEC-TV, was the master of ceremonies for the walk.

The event featured a promise garden ceremony, where people planted symbolic flowers representing their connection to the disease. Those who have Alzheimer’s held blue flowers; caregivers, yellow flowers; someone who lost a loved one to the disease, purple; and those who support a world without Alzheimer’s, orange.

“Our goal is ultimately to have a sea of white flowers,” Colombara said. “That means we have survivors.”

Colombara noted all of the ways the Alzheimer’s Association uses the money raised: research, a 24-hour helpline, support groups, caregiver education, respite care, a program to help connect people with clinical trials, and more.

“It’s about creating community for those dealing with this disease,” said Colombara, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s. “When you get a diagnosis in your family of someone with a disease, it can seem like a lonely situation unless you know the community resources that are around you. You feel very at a loss. Getting connected helps people be able to create an action plan for the future and for today.”

The Western Tidewater walk was the second of six in the Southeastern Virginia chapter. The Coastal Virginia Walk in Chesapeake in September raised more than $200,000. Other walks are planned in Melfa on the Eastern Shore Oct. 9; at Port Warwick in Newport News Oct. 16; in Williamsburg Oct. 23; and in Farmville Oct. 31. People can find the walk nearest them at alz.org/walk, or find Southeastern Virginia chapter information at alz.org/seva.

The 24-hour helpline for caregivers is 1-800-272-3900.