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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2016 by Helaine Isaacs, Event Director

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Here at the Parkinson’s Unity Walk, Thanksgiving is the time of year when we reflect on all the things we are grateful for – and there are many.

  • We are grateful to our walkers who raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease and funds for research each year. They are a committed and resilient group of individuals who meet life’s challenges with grace and humor.
  • We are grateful to our donors, many of whom have a personal connection to this important cause. We know how much it means to our walkers to have their support.
  • We are grateful to our sponsors. It is their continued and generous support that allows 100% of donations to fund research.
  • We are grateful to the Parkinson’s foundations that participate in the Unity Walk. They provide information and resources to the PD community and lead the way on the research funded with donations to the Walk.
  • We are grateful to the researchers who use the funds raised at the Walk to move us closer to finding the cause and cure for Parkinson’s disease. Until that day comes, they continue to develop therapies that improve the quality of life of those living with PD.
  • We are grateful to our volunteers, many of whom have been with the Walk for many years. The Walk would not be the same without their support.
  • We are grateful for the sense of community that is created when thousands of people gather, all committed to finding the cause and cure for Parkinson’s disease.
  • We are grateful for the relationships we’ve made through the Parkinson’s Unity Walk. They enrich our lives every day.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful and satisfying Thanksgiving holiday!

Charity Can Begin at Work In Addition to Beginning at Home

November 11th, 2016 by Helaine Isaacs, Event Director

There’s the old adage – “Charity begins at home” – but for some of our walkers, it might be updated to “Charity begins at work.” In March, 2017, we posted a write up on our blog about HomeServe’s charity pitch. Employees were encouraged to present a charity that is near and dear to them and their families, to a panel of their peers and company leadership. A company-wide vote was then taken to select the top three charities. The Parkinson’s Unity Walk was one of three charities selected from sixteen submissions. HomeServe matched every donation dollar for dollar and donated an additional $1,000 to each organization in the contest. In total, their team raised almost $15,000!

HomeServe’s commitment to community service was recognized recently by the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. The awarded HomeServe with the 2016 Marketplace Excellence Award in the Community Care category. We congratulate HomeServe on this well-deserved acknowledgement from the local business community!

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Many companies encourage their employees to give back to their community by getting involved in organizations that are meaningful to them. How they refer to this function may vary company to company but the intent is the same. It may be as simple as speaking to one of the Human Resource representatives in your company to ask if they have a program to promote employee engagement. Please consider reaching out to someone at your place of business to find out how this is accomplished in your company.

Brooklyn Parkinson Group

November 4th, 2016 by Guest Blogger

Support groups have a strong presence at the Unity Walk and Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG) leads the way. They have grown in size, spirit and offerings and convey the support that is derived from their group. Not all support groups offer the same breadth of classes but the sense of connection and community is available in all of them. We’ve invited Leonore Gordon, Team Captain of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group’s team at the Walk to share her experience of BPG.
Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

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The actual home of Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group (BPG) has been, since 2001, in downtown Brooklyn, in a building owned by the world-renowned dancer/choreographer Mark Morris, who heads his own dance company and public dance-school, located up the block from the famed Brooklyn Academy of Music. However, the whole notion of people with Parkinson’s benefitting from dance was the brain-child of Olie Westheimer, another Brooklyn resident who brought the idea to Mark Morris in 2001. Shortly thereafter,  Dance for PD® was launched as a non-profit collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and BPG.

Mark Morris generously offered space for the Brooklyn Parkinson’s community to house our dance classes and, over time, our singing and movement classes, and monthly support groups for People with Parkinson’s (PWP) and their caregivers. Morris threw in the bonus of providing two of his top dancers as our dance teachers, David Leventhal and John Hegginbotham, joined for many years by Misty Owens, a gifted tap dancer and dance teacher. The icing on the cake was the added gift of a live pianist/composer of exceptional talent, William Wade, who played (and still plays) piano during the dance classes, who went on to teach and lead the PD singing group.

It wasn’t long before the popular Friday “Movement Lab” was added to the line-up, led by another celebrated BPG star, professional dancer and choreographer Pamela Quinn, who lives with PD herself. Quinn now also leads classes in Manhattan, and travels across the globe, teaching her techniques. (link to Pamelaquinn.net)

Birthed at the start of the 21st century, this new organism, “Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group” became a life-raft not only for me, but for dozens of others, (today numbering in the hundreds) some arriving from New Jersey, Long Island and the four other boroughs. I began to gratefully partake in the free weekly classes for PD folks and care-partners in dance, movement and singing in 2003, gradually rescheduling my hours as a family therapist and Resident Poet in the NYC public schools so I could attend. Participation slowly became a necessity, motivating me (and countless others) out of our houses and into the welcome company of peers struggling to adjust to living with Parkinson’s.

By 2008, my own progressing symptoms forced me (not unlike innumerable compatriots) to reluctantly retire from my two careers. By then, fortunately for me and about 15 others, a new partnership had recently emerged between BPG and Long Island University, initiated by a lawyer living with PD. LIU was just a few blocks away, and we jumped at the chance to attend twice-weekly aerobic and weight-training exercise classes.

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Suddenly, nearly every weekday, classes had become available, strengthening our bodies, our voices and our spirits. Of equal value, this daily-ness and continuity allowed many of us to become a community, and a family. Traveling between boroughs, we began to share meals, birthday celebrations, attend theater together, sign up for boat rides to see fall foliage, to visit one another in hospitals, and sadly, to jointly attend way too many funerals.

In 2011, one of our dance teachers, David Leventhal, once a lead dancer with a soaring career in the Mark Morris Dance Group, astonished us all by leaving the dance group in order to become director of “Dance for PD.” He began to train interested dancers to initiate new Dance for PD classes across the US and eventually, throughout the world.  His program and techniques are being taught in over 100 communities worldwide.

In 2013, after being filmed for a year by documentary filmmaker Dave Iverson (who also lives with Parkinson’s) and videographer Eddie Maritz, a beautiful hour-long film, “Capturing Grace”, was released. The film followed our dance community for over a year as we prepared for a final professional dance performance in 2012, and the film won Audience Favorite awards at film festivals across the US, eventually appearing on PBS.  “Capturing Grace” has inspired viewers with Parkinson’s world-wide to dance and to believe in their abilities to feel graceful again. capturinggracefilm.com

BPG and Mark Morris Dance Company are still partnering to offer dance and singing classes in all five boroughs, as well as in New Jersey. Thus explains the fierce loyalty of the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group. At the end of the day, we all share a common bond of one extraordinary, creative, patient-based Parkinson’s community in the greater New York City area.

Leonore Gordon
Team Captain, Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group & Friends

 

Peaches and Parkinson’s – Working Together to Find a Cure

June 21st, 2016 by Guest Blogger

Ontelaunee Orchards is among a growing list of companies that are actively supporting their employees in their effort to raise funds on behalf of the Unity Walk. Doug Nemeth is their Executive Vice President. He is living with Parkinson’s disease and is a longstanding participant in the Unity Walk. Together, they’ve created “Peaches for Parkinson’s.” Read below for more details about their fundraiser.

This event highlights that you can raise funds for the Unity Walk all year round and those efforts don’t need to be limited to the months of February through April.

We are grateful to Doug, Stacey and the owners of Ontelaunee Orchards for their support and wish them every success with their fundraiser. If you’re in their area on August 13th, please make sure to stop by.

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

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I mentioned in passing to Stacey Mullen that I would love to have a fundraiser of some kind in the orchard for the Parkinson’s Unity Walk but thought it might be a challenge with our time limitations at work.  At the time, I don’t recall Stacey reacting at all but she heard me all right. Over the winter, she was working on preparations for the 2016 season. She presented her plans for a walk at our orchards to the owner of the company and he was on board! Once we had his support, we started getting excited about the possibilities. I have spent 37 years working for Ontelaunee Orchards and to be part of an event like this is exciting and humbling. I am so grateful. After eleven years of living with Parkinson’s disease, work is becoming more challenging every day. Happenings like this fill me with optimism and strength. The first blossoms opened for the 2016 peach crop in late March. I believe they intend to do their part and are anxious to start growing. Peaches and Parkinson’s has a ring to it. Don’t you agree?

Doug Nemeth
Team Member, Team “Livin’ La Levodopa”

Doug Nemeth was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eleven years ago and he’s been a longstanding member of the Parkinson’s Unity Walk’s Team “Livin’ La Levodopa.” Doug has been employed as Executive Vice President at Ontelaunee Orchards in Berks County, Pennsylvania for over 38 years. Doug’s fundraising on behalf of the Unity Walk has mostly involved his reaching out to family and friends. In conversation a few months ago, he mentioned that he would like to create a local fundraiser in our community. That got me thinking – why not create a fundraiser at our orchard? I approached the owner of the orchard and he was immediately on board. This was the beginning of Peaches and Parkinson’s!

Ontelaunee Orchards is one of the biggest and oldest orchards in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  In the early 1920’s the orchard was comprised of approximately 2,000 acres growing peaches, apples, and cherries.  Today, the orchard is slightly smaller but growing a variety of fruits for “Pick Your Own”; apples, peaches, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and pumpkins.  Today it’s a great place to come with the family and make memories while picking fresh local fruit.  We are located in Leesport, Pennsylvania and the scenery and views while picking is truly majestic!

During August, aka “prime peach time”, Ontelaunee Orchards holds its annual Peach Festival where we highlight our PF 007 Peaches.  These peaches are truly something! They are the biggest peaches you’ll ever see! Every year we have the world’s largest peach, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to successfully document it.  The peaches are about the size of a softball, some larger, some smaller.

This year Ontelaunee Orchards’ Peach Festival has decided to combine forces with the Parkinson’s Unity Walk.  On Saturday, August 13th, starting at 10:00 am, the Orchard will host a Country Road Walk through the orchards.  Participants in the walk will get a T-shirt, and a pre-paid bag to pick peaches along with their donation.  After the walk, let the festivities begin! Stay for some BBQ, shop at the local craft vendors and listen to some live music! We’ve also approached local companies in our community and several have already signed on to serve as a sponsor of this fundraising event.

Doug believes that resilience is one of the factors that contribute to living well with the disease and he continues to capably and confidently run our company. We are grateful for this opportunity to support Doug in his efforts to raise funds for Parkinson’s research.

Please join us on August 13th, to help find a cure for Parkinson’s with peaches!

Stacey Mullen
Retail Operations Manager
Ontelaunee Orchards

 

Pearl by May May Ali

June 10th, 2016 by Parkinson's Unity Walk Team

As we mourn the passing of Muhammad Ali, we stand with the entire Parkinson’s community in sending our love and prayers to support our dear friend May May and the entire Ali family.

A recent Los Angeles Times article described Maryum “May May” Ali as the eldest daughter of Muhammad Ali, a standup comedian, a rapper, and is currently executive director of a nonprofit that focuses on gang prevention and youth development.  To the Parkinson’s family, May May is also known as our Official Unity Walk Poet.  Her poems are a Walk tradition.

“Pearl” is a poem that is unique because it is about her father’s determination while living with Parkinson’s disease for over three decades.

Pearl
By Maryum Ali

What a hero he is to me but more so heroic in the face of adversity.
Lightning speed within a square ring turned into slow imbalances while praying for nights like yesteryear spotlights on
The Ali Shuffle.

The rope-a-dope fight is now a rope-a-dopamine battle.
Parkinson’s – akin to traversing upstream in a canoe with a leaking hole without a paddle.
Yes, it is a struggle, but what I admire about my father is his determination to not let symptoms defeat his soul and refusing Parkinson’s to retreat him into darkness taking its toll.
Throughout diseased phases, he maintained divine praises to his Creator,
and I witnessed in the early stages his ability to still raise his once powerful fist despite recurrent shaking.
That shaking.

Reminds me of the famous Cassius Clay quote after Sonny Liston choked, “I shook up the world!”
Yes, Dad, you are a pearl imbedded in the oyster of life, protected by your faith and elevated through social strife.
Standing up for the right to be the man you manifested.
Politically unrested, you tested all waters until the tides waved your way to whisper in your ear,
“You know God’s humanity.”

Now you stand with a walker. No vanity. Now a softer talker if you talk at all.
But what remains the same is your spiritual stance, a presence remaining tall.
I am so inspired by your choice to live your life to the fullest it can be
with over 30 years of PD riding heavily on your back.
From your earliest days to your latest, you haven’t wavered your love of self.
Your eyes still sparkling like the day you proclaimed,
“I Am The Greatest!”

“Pearl” was read by May May at the 2015 Parkinson’s Unity Walk and at the 2016 Kick-Off Reception.