Walk for a Cure

Getting ready to walk at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Walk for a Cure in downtown Oklahoma are University of Central Oklahoma Sigma Kappa Sorority active members Marly Fitzgerald and Perianne Phillippe. Nationally Sigma Kappa has raised close to $3 million for Alzheimer’s research since 1984.

 

For 141 years Sigma Kappa Sorority has been uniting women on college and university campuses in lifelong friendships.

But there is more to Sigma Kappa than just a group of women.

Sigma Kappa members on the University of Central Oklahoma’s campus join members throughout the nation as well as the world as they are encouraged to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

The Sigma Kappa Foundation participates as a national platinum level team with a goal of raising $500,000 annually. 

In 1954, Sigma Kappa became the first sorority to recognize the need for continued comprehensive work on the study of aging and the needs of the elderly population; Sigma Kappa added an emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease to its gerontology program in 1984. The women of Sigma Kappa will be joining thousands of others Oct. 13 as they walk to end Alzheimer’s. They will meet at the Civic Center Bicentennial Park at 500 Couch Dr. in Oklahoma City.

“Sigma Kappa has been purposeful in its efforts to have a world without Alzheimer's since 1984. The Walk provides a great opportunity for alumnae and collegiate chapters to join together and raise dollars to help find a cure for this debilitating disease," stated Lisa Swiontek, executive director of the Sigma Kappa Foundation. "Our members are bold in their efforts and well on their way to their third consecutive $1 million dollar year for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.  

As 2017 marks the 33rd anniversary of the partnership between the Alzheimer's Association and Sigma Kappa Sorority, participants look forward once again to participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer's and having another incredible year in their fundraising efforts, said a spokesperson for Sigma Kappa’s National Foundation. 

Of Oklahoma City’s $800,000 goal, as of Thursday $736,794.94 has been raised. Of that amount $7,280 has been raised so far by Sigma Kappas at the University of Central Oklahoma.

UCO Sigma Kappas have a myriad of reasons why they believe it is important to give back to the community through actively participating in raising funds for Alzheimer’s.

SOMEONE MUST LEAD

“I think it is important for Delta Chi to participate in the Walk for Alzheimer’s because the women of Sigma Kappa are leaders of today and of tomorrow,” Hannah Owen said. 

Prior to the walk members of the sorority present a program about Alzheimer’s, advertise the walk, and raise money for Alzheimer’s research and funding.

“Going to the walk reminds us of why we work to raise money for the Alzheimer’s association,” Owen said. “We see not only families, but also people who are personally affected by this horrible disease. This gives us a chance to see what we are raising money for and who we are impacting.”

Walking is one way the members of Sigma Kappa become leaders in their community.

“We get to personally touch the lives of other people,” Owen said. “I love participating in the walk because it reminds me of something bigger than I am. Together with my sisters, I know we can stop this disease."

FAMILIES’ LIVES TOUCHED

Some walk because they are affected personally by a family member with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“My grandma has always been a huge part of my life and came to everything from sports to academic events throughout my young life and high school years,” Devynn Base said.

“Over the past few years we have started to notice that she is slowly deteriorating. She started to not be able to see or hear as well and we just thought it was because she was getting older,” Base said. “Then she started to forget small things, like her favorite recipes to cook or something we had told her about only days before.”  

DISEASE NEVER LESSENS

“These past two years have been the worst — she doesn’t recognize any of us until we tell her who it is and she doesn’t remember things from only minutes before in a conversation,” Base said. “She asks us grandkids how school is going and we will answer and minutes later she will ask us again how school is going. By the end of a conversation, she has asked you the same question three or four times.” 

Mobility becomes an issue of someone affected by Alzheimer’s.

“She can’t get around by herself anymore either. She has to be led by someone everywhere she goes because she can’t see or walk by herself,” Base added. “My grandpa has taken it the hardest. Seeing his wife slowly go away has made him very sad and he struggles to understand what is happening to her and why she isn’t the same anymore.” 

A diagnoses of Alzheimer’s affects everyone in the family.

“Just this past month my grandma was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my whole family has been taking the news very hard. We have all somewhat known that this was what she had, but actually hearing it from a doctor has made it worse somehow,” Base added. “I have participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the past two years, but this year it will be much different for me. I will carry a different color of flower and will think about my grandma the whole time.”

MUSICAL MEMORIES RETAINED BY PATIENTS

Music has been found to be a memory that Alzheimer’s patients can still relate to. Whether it is hearing a favorite song, or the ability to perform a piece of music, those musical memories are still inherent in an Alzheimer’s patient.

“Alzheimer’s began impacting my life when I was just 11 years old,” Kendall McDaniel said. 

“One day I had been asked to sing a song at my grandmother’s church during a service. It seemed like such a small moment at the time, but what happened afterwards truly changed the course of the rest of my life,” McDaniel said. 

An elderly woman, a friend of her grandmother, came and visited her a year later at her flower shop. 

“When the woman saw me she stopped dead in her tracks, took my hands, and told me about how she had lived the last eight years of her life with Alzheimer’s,” McDaniel said. “She told me about how frustrating it was to lose all of her memories and that every day tasks were beginning to become a struggle, but she also told me that for some reason the memory of me singing that day in church had never left her to this day. It was such an incredible moment that had everyone in the shop in tears.”

Musical memories gave her grandmother’s friend hope for a cure. 

“She thanked me for singing that day, and told me that it was not only a memory she was clinging to, but also a piece of hope that one day this disease could be cured,” McDaniel said.

Kendall is now in her senior year at UCO majoring in Music Performance and Music Business. 

“That day was the day that I decided that I could make something of my passion, and I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the music industry,” McDaniel said. “My life was forever changed by Jeanie and I am so grateful that we shared that moment because I could not be happier with my decision to pursue this career. Alzheimer’s changed my life for the better and I hope that in return I can better the life of a person with Alzheimer’s through my music, through the Walk, and through Sigma Kappa.”

SIGMA KAPPA WALKS EACH YEAR

“I experienced the walk for the first time this past fall,” Kenzie Taylor said. “After attending, I wondered why I hadn't attended before.”

Taylor said the experience of her first Walk was one of a kind.

“Walking into the square was nothing less than breathtaking,” Taylor said. “I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the energy in the air. All of Sigma Kappa decided to congregate at the back of the meeting area to take pictures and talk about what was about to happen.”

As the walk was about to begin the colors of the pinwheel flowers were explained.

“Over the speakers a man started to talk about why we were all here,” Kenzie said. “We all held up our colored pinwheels; mine was purple to represent my Grandpa Miller who passed from Alzheimer's, and the man spoke about the white pinwheel.”

The white pinwheel is what the walkers work toward, as it represents a survivor of Alzheimer’s.

“The hope is that one day, among all of the different colored pinwheels, a single white one will be raised in the crowd,” McDaniel said. 

“Needless to say, I was hooked. As I walked with my sisters, seeing the different colored pinwheels and remembering those who lost the battle to the horrible disease, I was transformed. I am a passionate advocate for the Alzheimer's Association,” Kenzie said.

“I am beyond excited to attend the walk for my second year this fall and look forward to seeing how this experience will change me as well,” she added. 

“Walking with my sisters is empowering, encouraging and nothing short of memorable. I'm thankful that Sigma Kappa holds a strong place in the heart of this organization and I will continue to make my impact, along with my sisters, all because of that first walking day,” Taylor said.

ALZHEIMER’S HITS HOME

“My husband was recently diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Desiree Good, a Sigma Kappa alumnae. 

“His mother, aunt, uncle, grandfather and great grandfather have all carried the gene and have the potential to pass it down to their children. 

Again, Sigma Kappa adopted Gerontology as a philanthropy in 1954, and in 1984 took on raising money for Alzheimer’s.

“When I was an active, Sigma Kappa was not a partner with the Alzheimer’s Walk but was focused on Gerontology. I think it was just a few years after I graduated that this change happened,” Good said.

The Alzheimer’s fight has become very personal for Desiree and her family.

“This battle became very real for us in March when my husband made the decision to find out his genetic results and to participate in clinical research trials,”  she added.

He is currently a participant with the DIAN-TU site in St. Louis, Mo. For information, go online to https://dian.wustl.edu 

“Alzheimer’s is the only top 10 disease that is on the increase with no cure in sight,” Good said. “It is not an old person’s disease, there is so much more to it … that is why we walk!”

(Editor’s Note: For more information go to 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s Oklahoma City at act.alz.org.)

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