The “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” — one of the largest events to raise awareness and funds for the care, support and research of the disease — is headed to Eisenhower Park on Oct. 1.
The walk takes place in 600 communities nationwide and will kick off at 10:30 a.m. in the park’s Field 6/6A. In the past, on Long Island, the walk marched through Belmont Lake State Park in Babylon, according to Tina Hardekopf, the director of development with the Alzheimer's Association Long Island chapter.
“As time passed, we started realizing when we look at the people involved, we see that they’re traveling from Nassau County, the Hamptons and from the east end,” she said. “We realized that we needed one out east, so we added a Yaphank walk. As we started to grow the Yaphank walk, we realized that we needed something in Nassau County.”
The Eisenhower Park walk is entering its sixth year, Hardekopf added, and its co-chairs are Edward Miller, a partner with Grant Thorton, a national accounting firm, and Armando D’Accordo.
D’Accordo, a Wantagh resident and owner of CMIT Solutions, an IT company in Merrick, became involved with the Alzheimer’s Association because both of his parents have faced difficult journeys with the disease. His father, Vincent, succumbed to the disease last August at the age of 88, and his mom, Vincenza, 88, is still battling it.
Alzheimer’s disease, D'Accordo said, affects the entire family. The Alzheimer’s Association offers families constant support, resources, advice and even reading material, so they can better understand what their loved ones are going through.
“It’s not a straight line,” D’Accordo said of the disease. “It’s not predictable. My advice to people, since I’ve gone through it, is try to make some decisions, try to get a plan in place. Be ready to change, because circumstances change. There’s so many variables.”
D’Accordo described the walk as “one giant hug.”
“Everybody’s supporting each other,” he said. “Everybody’s at a different stage of their journey with their loved ones, and they really need each other. It’s really cathartic and it’s really helpful to be there.”
Walkers can register individually, with teams started by families and friends, or with corporate teams and sponsors.
“We have companies that are fundraising for all the different walks in the nation,” Hardekopf said. “They commit to raising a certain amount of money and become a national team.”
Educational programs accompany corporate sponsorships, she said. For financial companies, like Edward Jones, one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s national presenting sponsors, these programs are extremely important.
“A lot of these corporate teams will allow us to come in and do these education programs, like communication strategies or knowing the 10 signs,” she explained. “It’s great for the financial industry. People that work in finance really need to know the signs, because when their clients come in and they’re kind of making different requests that aren’t sound decisions, they can start to question whether they need a financial proxy.”
Registration and check-in on the day of the walk opens at 9 a.m. and at 10, Hardekopf said. There’s a promise garden opening ceremony, where people hold flowers to represent why they’re walking.
“People that lost someone will carry a purple flower — people that are caregivers will carry a yellow one,” she said. “Blue means you have the disease, and orange is you’re there because you wish for a world without Alzheimer’s. We have a representative of each other flower speak briefly on why they hold that flower. The first time I was up on stage — I did not expect it. It’s an extremely emotional ceremony. It’s a really special day for a lot of families.”
Nancy Chandler, chair of the Alzheimer’s Association Long Island chapter board of directors, said the walk is “supportive, emotional and uplifting.”
“I cry every year at the promise garden ceremony,” Chandler said. “When you look at the seas of flowers and see all the people affected, it is a very uplifting and emotional moment.”
“This disease takes so much out of a family,” Valerie Giresi, a walk participant and volunteer, said, “and it is nice to walk together to show we are all together in this fight.”
D’Accordo said people should support the cause of the Alzheimer’s Association, so “nobody has to go through this.”
“It’s devastating on the caretakers,” he said. “That’s not to dismiss what the family goes through, what the patient goes through. I watched my father’s dignity be stripped away — his independence, and he knew it. He really fought and he did a valiant job. But to watch people not remember simple things, not know what day it is, what time it is, or who their family members are, it’s really difficult. Why should someone contribute? To hopefully put an end to this.”
About 300 participants and 117 teams have registered for the East Meadow walk. The association said it hopes to raise $300,000, and is about 40 percent of the way there.
For more information on the association and how to participate in the walk, visit Act.ALZ.org/Nassau.