10/17/10 — Families walk to break Alzheimer's cruel grip

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Families walk to break Alzheimer's cruel grip

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 17, 2010 1:50 AM

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Close to 400 people participated in Saturday's Neuse Regional Alzheimer's Walk at Wayne Community College. The theme for the walk was "Remember When the 1920s, '30s and '40s." The Starlight Dance Band provided music and people were dressed as Rosie the Riveter, 1920s flappers and characters from "The Wizard of Oz."

Michelle Giles paused and wiped away the tears as she thought about her mother, the late Sara Giles, prior to the start of the Neuse Regional Alzheimer's Walk.

On the stage in front of her, officials with Alzheimer's North Carolina Inc. were providing last-minute instructions to the some 400 people who showed up for the Saturday morning event, which was held on the campus of Wayne Community College.

The walk and all it represented are very personal for Ms. Giles -- she watched as her mother succumbed to the disease.

Mrs. Giles said her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003 and died on March 18, 2009. Yet, she feels fortunate, she was able to look after her mother.

She also feels fortunate that she discovered the walk and Alzheimer's North Carolina shortly after her mother was diagnosed.

A photograph of her mother was emblazoned on Ms. Giles' shirt and members of her team had photos of the late Mrs. Giles attached to their shirts.

"My mother was an educator for over 40 years," said Ms. Giles, who lives in Greene County. "She was such a brilliant woman reduced to a child. I retired in 2002, and I was home at the time my mother got sick. To watch her evolve from this woman who did so much for Greene County and then I had to take care of her, but I just thank God that I could retire and give my mother what she gave me.

Ms. Giles was instrumental in getting Greene County involved in the annual event.

"I am so pleased other people in Greene County are involved in this walk," she said. "I do believe it is very much needed to advocate and educate people about Alzheimer's."

Mrs. Giles said she was pleased with the turnout.

While the walk has been a tradition for a number of years, Saturday's walk was the first for the new Alzheimer's North Carolina, Inc.

Close to 40 teams were signed up for the walk and organizers were expecting about 400 participants for the annual fundraiser -- all of the money, for the first time, will stay in the state.

"This year our theme is 'Remember When the 1920s, 30s and 40s,'" said Anne Paugh, outreach and community development director for Alzheimer's North Carolina Inc. "We have the Starlight Dance Band playing for us this year. You notice some people are in costume. We have everything from Rosie the Riveter to 1920s flappers. We have folks from the Wizard of Oz.

"We are back on track and we have a great turnout. We have raised a lot of money this year. We don't have our total yet, but we have done a good job coming into the walk financially and the nice thing is that for the first time 100 percent of the funds we raise from this walk will remain in eastern North Carolina."

In prior years, as much as 40 percent of the proceeds have gone to the national organization.

"We are our own organization, and we keep our funds here," she said. "We still provide education. We still provide programs and services for families. We advocate for families and we send funding to research so we are still involved in all aspects of programs and services that we used do."

Approximately 133,000 people statewide suffer from the disease, she said.

Exhibitors from home health agencies, Wayne Memorial Hospital, assisted living facilities and nursing homes had booths set up to provide information.

The two-mile walk around the campus was led by classic cars from the Southeastern N.C. Antique Automobile Clubs of America.

"We are twice the size of last year, and we have a lot more participation than we had last year," said Mrs. Paugh, who has led the walk for five years. "Last year the weather was a big factor. This year it is a perfect day weather wise."

It is all about helping people, said Alice Watkins, executive director of Alzheimer's North Carolina Inc.

"We are focusing most of our attention right now on eastern North Carolina," she said. "We used to be the eastern North Carolina chapter, but we can go all across the state. We disaffiliated (from the national association) in November. It was about money and a lot of interference with the national association. We have always been our own 501c3 (nonprofit) just affiliated with the national association."

Neuse Regional Alzheim-er's Walk is made up of Wayne, Duplin, Greene and Johnston counties.