Travelers passing through Michigan City this Saturday afternoon might notice something new along Michigan Boulevard: a collection of dozens of colorful spinning flowers, gracing the lawn in front of the city’s “You Are Beautiful” sculpture. Those flowers comprise the Promise Garden, honoring all those whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and drivers passing by are encouraged to honk in support.
Erin Stojic, Walk Manager for the Michigan City Walk to End Alzheimer’s, described this as the organization’s signature event.
“It’s peer-to-peer fundraising,” Stojic said. “All of our participants register, then go out and raise money from their communities and their own personal networks.”
The long-running, annual event typically sees participants then gather at Michigan City’s Washington Park for a group walk; however, due to challenges presented with COVID-19, this year’s event looked a little bit different.
“This year, in order to maintain safe social distancing, we asked our participants to walk separately, either as individuals, with families, or in small teams. Then, we invited them to gather here to ‘plant’ a flower in honor of their loved ones who perhaps suffered from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.”
Stojic said that each color of flower represents a different way in which the disease may have touched someone’s lives.
“Orange flowers signify alignment with the Alzheimer’s vision of working towards a world without Alzheimers. Yellow flowers honor the caregivers, those who care for persons struggling from Alzheimer’s. Blue flowers represent those currently living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and purple flowers represent those who lost their battle with the disease.”
In prior years, participants would hold their flowers as they walked.
“Since we couldn’t safely all walk together this year, we are planting them here in our Promise Garden, where people can safely drive by to show their love and support for all those touched by this disease,” said Stojic.
This year’s event saw over 200 people come out to support the cause. Money raised goes toward funding support groups, educational programs, and legal and financial issues for those either suffering from Alzheimer’s or families impacted by the disease. It also goes towards supporting research. The Walk is the world's largest event to fundraise and raise awareness for Alzheimer's care, support, and research programs of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Although Alzheimer’s is the fifth most common cause of death, there is absolutely no treatment or cure,” Stojic said.
“So many families here in Northwest Indiana are affected by Alzheimer's and dementia. They need our support, especially right now, as the pandemic has had a devastating impact on these families,” Stojic said.
The Alzheimer's Association offers free care and support to those living with the disease and their caregivers, including educational programs and support groups. Though the pandemic has posed a challenge, it has not prevented the Alzheimer’s Association from continuing their fundamental work.
“When the pandemic began, our team quickly pivoted to provide these services online and by phone,” Stojic said. “In fact, in the first few months alone, we offered more than 100 of these programs.”
The Walk funds research into new methods for treating and preventing the disease, but also provides for the 24/7 Helpline, which offers free, confidential support from licensed social workers, and research into new methods for treating and preventing the disease. That number is 1-800-272-3900, and it’s staffed by masters-level social workers.
“All of our resources, care, and support are free for anyone who needs them, and our walk allows us to continue to do that for our community,” Stojic said.
Cheri Harrington of Michigan City was on hand to help represent her team, the Beach Bums.
“We’re a group of friends who got together to honor and remember all those who have passed away due to Alzheimers, as well as their families,” said Harrington. “We’re based out of the Michigan City/La Porte area, and we also participate in other events such as golf outings, garage sales, and other things, all to benefit Alzheimer’s research.”
Harrington invited anyone interested in joining their group to find them on Facebook, where they post information about upcoming events.
Beth Cizewski, team captain for the Beach Bums said that, although the pandemic made fundraising a bit more challenging than in previous years, her group nevertheless managed to raise over $10,000 this year.
“This year, with COVID-19 going on, there were some things that we just weren’t able to do, but we’ll be back again next year and we’ll be back at it in full force,” said Cizewski.
Cizewski and Harrington credited several local businesses with helping in their fundraising efforts.
“The community here is just amazing,” said Cizewski. “Places like Three Sheets, Knuckleheads Bar and Grill, Castle Ford, and others. These and countless other people have been just so generous, we wouldn’t be able to do this without their support.”
Other sponsors for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s included Urschel Laboratories, CVSHealth, Edward Jones, Life Care Centers of America, and many others.
“Since the walk draws people from surrounding cities and towns as well, we wanted to make sure the Promise Garden would be accessible to everyone,” Stojic said. “The City and Parks Department graciously allowed us to use this location instead, and we couldn't be more excited. It will be a stunning, and meaningful, backdrop for the iconic Promise Flowers.”
For more information about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, visit them online at https://act.alz.org.