OKLAHOMA CITY - The Walk to End Alzheimers brings people together. It's fun, it's noisy. Unlike the silent, mind-destroying disease attacking so many Oklahoma families.
"I didn't know that she had no idea who we were, we would go visit her and she would look at us like we were complete strangers," said Ashlen Hamon.
Ashlen is talking about her grandmother. Ashlen walks every year in part because she is a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority. The sorority has been a national partner with the Alzheimer's Association for over 30 years.
"Two out of three people that are diagnosed with Alzheimer's are women, and so as a woman, I'm afraid someday, like my chances are higher, and it's going to raise even more than that, and the fact that it's in my family, I want to do as much as I can to donate for the cause," Ashlen said.
Another walker every year is Ashlen's sorority sister Devynn Base.
"We do the walk every year. That is probably the biggest thing we do for it. We love doing the walk," Devynn said.
And these walkers are hands-on in the fight.
"We go to nursing homes and stuff like that just to spend time with them, not to raise money or anything, like to paint their nails or do fun stuff with them. That's one of the other things we do that's really cool," Devynn said.
And it's all connected to the walk, Ashlen said.
Llast year at the walk we talked to nursing homes, and you build a connection with people because the Alzheimer's Association is a community," she said.
Yes, it's a community. One we hope in the future doesn't exist.
"The Alzheimer's Association is here to do two things. First, put ourselves out of business. We are here to advance research and find a cure and go find something else to do with our time, but until that day comes, we are here to provide and enhance care and support for those that are impacted by this disease, and so we provide a number of free programs and services," said Mark Fried, the CEO of Oklahoma's Alzheimer's Association Chapter.
Programs include a 24/7 helpline that is free and confidential, face to face local support groups, education resources to know what to expect in your family's journey and information about safety measures like Medic Alert and the Safe Return program for those victims that might wander.
"When we see that we have 10,000-plus that show up for an event that really does take over an entire downtown, we know there is an opportunity to raise more and more dollars," Mark said. "The million dollar goal that we have this year really should be a jumping off point because the disease is not going to slow down and we are not going to be relenting either. We want everybody who is interested and wants to be a part of this to sign up to come and participate on that day."
A day that, yes, is about the crucial dollars but also about the crucial connection.
"It's almost like building up encouragement to let people know that you are not alone and you have someone there to lean against," Ashlen said.
Mark says, "Be a part of the solution. Help us be a part of this purple army that we are gathering together to fight this disease".