The community is lacing up their tennis shoes as they prepare for North Central Ohio’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, striving to create a future where the disease becomes one of the past. Drawing from Ashland, Richland, Crawford, and Knox counties, with 313 participants, 67 teams, and $60,000+ raised out of a $85,000 goal, this year’s walk is off to a great start.
Erica Parnisari, manager of the event, encourages all to come out on Saturday, September 16th.
“This disease is relentless. So many people are affected by it. Caregiving for this disease is very difficult and can go on for years. We need more people to become involved to help raise awareness and funds,” Parnisari said.
The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research programs. Various walks stretch across the country and volunteers from the community work with the Alzheimer’s Association to plan the event.
Last year’s speaker Pastor Jonathan Stufft touched the crowd with his leading speech the previous year. Not only did he agree to speak due to his high compliments of Parnisari’s leadership and friendship, but his mother Jane is suffering from the disease herself.
“My mom had developed Alzheimer’s very quickly a couple years ago, and we were in the thick of dealing with all the changes that followed that diagnosis. As I talked with Erica, she said to make the talk personal and offer some hope. At that time, I think I was writing the speech for myself, as well as everyone else. We all need a dose of hope when something like this gets woven into our lives. Having spent the last four years preaching every Sunday, I felt like this was a natural fit – connect with people, offer hope,” Stufft said.
Stufft was ordained as an ELCA pastor in June of 2021, serving St. Paul Mansfield and also St. Timothy Lutheran Church since 2021. These two congregations are in the process of consolidating into Hope Lutheran Church (operating out of St. Paul’s current building on Park Avenue West.)
The event has become so important to him and those around him, that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s has become the kickoff event for the 7th-12th grade youth group each fall. They call themselves the “Epic Luth Group,” – it combines 5 Lutheran churches and 2 Episcopal churches working together in youth ministry. There’s a possibility that there will be additional churches added to the group this year.
Stufft said that his mother’s Alzheimer’s began with a few odd things that didn’t quite make sense, like hearing things they couldn’t, or losing patience quickly with her husband of over 50 years, which was unusual for her.
“We all dismissed it as part of aging at first. But then she began wandering off, peering in windows, and not responding to us. She was officially diagnosed in the fall, and by spring we had to move my parents out of their house and into assisted living. In a facility that was not secured, she quickly began escaping. It was dangerous for her, and my Dad could not keep up with her physically,” Stufft said.
He then moved his parents to Mansfield, where his Dad lives in an efficiency apartment while Jane lives in Wedgewood Assisted Living. He made this decision based on his knowledge and experience at the facility, having visited many congregation members there.
“It’s far less institutional than any other place I know,” Stufft said.
According to Stufft, there’s a positive energy amongst the participants of the walk, feeling the energy the minute you set foot on campus, taking place at the OSU/NCSC campus behind the Health Sciences building.
“Everyone there shares a thread – be it caring for someone, knowing someone, or having lost someone. We all want hope for a cure. Supporting the fundraising efforts of the walk lead directly to study, research, and improvements in care. There’s really no better way to spend a donation dollar,” Stufft said.
Stufft’s father will be participating in another walk in Hamilton County. His home church, Prince of Peace Lutheran in Loveland, Ohio organized a team to walk in honor of Jane.
During walk day, participants honor those affected by Alzheimer’s with the touching Promise Garden ceremony. This is a mission-focused experience that signifies solidarity in the fight against the disease. During the ceremony, walkers carry flowers of various colors, each color representing their personal connection to the disease.
Blue is representative of someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and purple is for those who have lost someone to the disease. Yellow is for someone who is currently supporting or caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s. Lastly, orange is for those who support the cause and the Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
“Whether you live with Alzheimer’s, know someone who does, or just feel drawn to support those folks, these walks make a difference! And that difference means the world to those who suffer, and suffer alongside those with, Alzheimer’s. There will be a cure, and this will help us get there,” Stufft said.
Registration and activities start at 9:00am, with the opening ceremony beginning at 10:00am. The walk is approximately 1.5 miles with a shorter option available. Handicap/family/pet friendly. Registration is free. alz.org/walk, or 800-272-3900 and registration forms will be available on walk day.
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