Weekly Feature

2018-09-12 / Front Page

Clarence residents to chair 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s


Michael and Patricia Alessandra are the volunteer chairs of the 2018 Buffalo Walk to End Alzheimer’s, set to take place at 10 a.m. this Saturday at the Outer Harbor. Michael and Patricia Alessandra are the volunteer chairs of the 2018 Buffalo Walk to End Alzheimer’s, set to take place at 10 a.m. this Saturday at the Outer Harbor. Michael and Patricia Alessandra are not strangers to suffering.

Their family has cared for relatives who have endured breast cancer and heart and kidney disease, though among the many tribulations they’ve faced, one disease stands out as being particularly cruel.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and one in three seniors dies with some form of dementia, killing more than breast and prostate cancer combined.

Patricia Alessandra’s father was one of millions diagnosed with the insidious disease, leading the family on a journey of pain, devotion and ultimately hope.

“The people who are the most affected from this disease are the loved ones and the caregivers,” said Michael Alessandra. “Those with the disease don’t realize they have it.”

The lengthy trials that the Alessandras faced as a result of caring for a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s served as a call to action for the family. While Michael Alessandra had served on the sponsorship committee for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, sponsored by the national Alzheimer’s Association, and while his wife had participated in previous walks, the couple were asked to take on a leadership role for the 2018 event.

The Alessandras are this year’s volunteer chairs for Buffalo’s walk, set to take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Buffalo Outer Harbor — a new venue that Michael says was a logistical change necessary to comply with the event’s outstanding growth.

Student volunteers from the Clarence Youth Bureau will be in attendance at this year’s walk, as they help out in the children’s tent with face-painting and activities. The event will also feature basket and 50/50 raffles as well as food trucks and additional entertainment.

Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. The event has a global reach, yet it also continues to intimately connect those who have been affected by Alzheimer’s either directly or indirectly.

Each walk allows participants the opportunity to fundraise by forming teams and personal fundraising web pages in which individual stories can be granted the narrative they deserve.

“We’ve grown stronger through our family’s health issues,” said Patricia Alessandra. “This walk is about raising money to provide education, caregiver and patient support, research funding, but it’s also about raising awareness.”

This year’s fundraising goal for the Buffalo walk is $497,000. The Alessandras’ team, which marks the first time the family has fundraised individually, has netted more than $5,000 toward that goal.

Their impact on Alzheimer’s awareness is felt far from the pavement of the Outer Harbor. Recently, the family took a vacation hike to the summits of Giant Mountain and Rocky Ridge Peak in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks. Donning their Walk to End Alzheimer’s shirts, the Alessandras snapped a family photo upon reaching the apex.

To them, it was a metaphorical lesson in resiliency and the gratification that follows.

Now, Michael Alessandra has set a goal of hiking all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks and has committed to wearing his End Alzheimer’s shirt at the top of each one. In addition to spreading awareness of Alzheimer’s as well as the organization’s mission to end it, he also wants to call attention to the numerous studies that have shown how exercise and physical activity can reduce risk of the disease.

Among the many highlights of the 2018 walk that the Alessandras look forward to, the event’s “memory garden” remains the most prominent for Patricia Alessandra. Participants carry pinwheel forget-me-not flowers that walkers personalize to honor their loved ones. A yellow flower represents caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, purple symbolizes a lost loved one, orange represents the yearning to raise awareness, while blue signifies that the holder has been diagnosed with the disease.

“When you see that rainbow in that field of flowers, you know you’re not alone,” she said.

Yet even more than the array of colors within the memory garden, she looks forward to a future walk in which a survivor of Alzheimer’s is standing on stage, addressing the crowd.

“This disease is just not something you can prepare for. It’s one that really speaks to us,” she said. “There aren’t any survivors to stand up on stage to say, ‘Hey, I beat it.’ We feel that it’s a cause we’ve been called to work toward.”

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Clarence Special Events 2018
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