By LOIS KINDLE
Alzheimer’s affects more than 50 million people worldwide, including six million Americans and 600,000 Floridians. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies from the progressively deteriorative disease or another form of dementia
That’s why every year about this time, Sun City Center’s Connie Lesko is busy contacting anyone and everyone to garner support for the South Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Having lost her parents and mother-in-law to the disease, she’s organized the walk 13 times out of her desire to help find a cure so her grandchildren and future generations can grow up in a world without it.
Like so many public events in 2020, the walk was postponed, but Lesko is looking forward to the 2021 event, which is set to start at 9 a.m. Oct. 16 at the Sun City Center United Methodist Church, 1210 Del Webb Blvd. W.
“We’re excited to be back this year,” Lesko said. “Although we had to take a break last year, the disease hasn’t stopped, and it will be extra special to be back together, raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Steve Manuel, of the Alzheimer’s Association and director of the upcoming Tampa Walk in November, of which the South Shore walk is a feeder event, called Lesko an “incredible human being.
“It’s unbelievable how involved she is in the community. I’m honored to be serving alongside her,” he said.
Manuel noted he lost his father in 2018 to dementia, and his involvement with the association is a way to honor his legacy.
This year’s walk emcees are HGTV’s “100 Day Dream Home” stars, Brian Kleinschmidt and his wife Mika of Ruskin. Both are sure to inspire participants with their commitment to the cause, humor and enthusiasm.
“Alzheimer’s is very near and dear to our family, and we are dedicated to helping find a cure no matter what it takes,” Kleinschmidt said. “Mika and I are looking forward to walking side by side with the community to raise money for this worthy cause.
“Thank you in advance for your support of my grandmother and the millions of people this disease affects. We’ll see you all Oct. 16 at the 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s!”
Ways you can help
One of the fun aspects of the annual walk is to form a team of family, friends, neighbors and/or people from your work place, church or other organization. Its members can raise funds together or on their own and turn in their collections at the Oct. 16 walk.
You or a team can choose to walk virtually and turn in any donations raised online at act.alz.org/southshorefl.org/.
Or you can donate directly online by credit card or write a check to the Alzheimer’s Association and mail it to the association’s Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, 14010 Roosevelt Blvd., No. 709, Clearwater, FL 33762. Be sure to add South Shore Walk in the memo field.
This year’s fundraising goal is $35,000. Sounds like a lot, but if everyone pitches in, reaching it is quite doable.
Captain Cure, aka Dylan Bramble, 13, and his mom Noelle, of team Purple Power, have been involved with the walk for years. Dylan dons a special costume fashioned after his favorite super hero as his way of “doing what’s right and helping find a cure.”
Three of his family members were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and two of them died, so the walk is personal for the lad.
“I’m getting a new cape and mask,” he said in a phone interview. “But otherwise, it’s the same costume.”
Ellen Kleinschmidt has also formed a team like she has for years, but for 2021 it’s a new one called Hot Diggity Dogs. Her son Brian, his wife Mika, son Andy and his wife in Baltimore, granddaughter and eight neighbors are involved thus far. So are their dogs.
Kleinschmidt’s 90-year-old mom, Ginny, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 78.
“I walk to honor her; my dad, who is her caregiver; my granddaughters, so they may never have to experience the disease; and myself because I carry the APOE4 gene, which raises my risk of getting it by 30%.
“People from (anywhere) can participate,” she added. “A woman I don’t even know from Massachusetts donated $100 to honor her dad who passed away in 2019.”
Hot Diggity Dogs has raised half of its goal of $5,000, but Kleinschmidt hopes to exceed that amount.
“The real power of forming a team is not only to get members to donate, but also for them to do their own outreaches to gain additional funds.
Some of the other teams signed up for the local 2021 walk are Edward Jones financial advisors Jeffrey Cerven and Sean Andrews; Team Bobby and Sandy Millard; FirstLight Home Care of South Shore; Helping Hands Seniors, Kings Point; Lennard High School and East Bay High School; Marianne Wexler’s Alzheimer’s Angels; and Freedom Plaza.
Any of them will gladly accept a donation for their team at https://bit.ly/3CQHd18/.
For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association and how your donation is used for research to find a cure, advocacy, education and support, visit www.alz.org/.
For more information on the 2021 South Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s, contact chairwoman Connie Lesko at 813-927-1147 or email email@example.com/.