Early Saturday morning, music echoed off the buildings surrounding the downtown Gainesville square. Purple shirts were everywhere, and those wearing them carried different colored pinwheel-type flowers as they mingled with friends, family and those they were meeting for the first time.
Though they weren’t all related, everyone who joined together Oct. 6 were still connected by something: Alzheimer’s disease. More than 300 people, including Miss Georgia International Kaylee Ewing, gathered for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an event to raise money and awareness for the disease.
“I’ve been involved in some type of capacity with the Alzheimer’s Association for almost a decade,” said Nicole Columbo, chairperson for Gainesville’s walk. “My grandma passed away when I was very young, so my involvement kind of became a way of carrying on her legacy because I didn’t get to really bond with her when she was healthy. She passed from Alzheimer’s disease when I was about 8.”
The event had a goal of raising $45,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association and it surpassed that with more than $48,000.
Many of the participants at the walk held the flowers that symbolized different reasons for being there. Orange ones were for supporters, purple for those who know someone who has died from the disease, yellow for caregivers and blue for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
As each person walked the 2-mile route around downtown Gainesville, they held their flower, celebrating the money raised and the awareness brought to the disease.
Many businesses in the area joined to raise money, but others had a more grass roots approach of “begging” people for money to support the cause, Kris Bein said.
“By doing this, we can give back,” said Bein, whose father, Chuck Jimison, died of Alzheimer’s in 2013 and whose mother, Patti, now suffers from it. “There’s a lot of healing here. There was a lot of healing for us at the beginning, and it’s just the camaraderie that people have with the same experience.”
Her team raised $2,000 this year, which she said was the least it’s raised over the six different walks in which she’s participated. She wasn’t too disappointed, as she knows every bit of money helps because there are so many resources that benefit from it.
“We used the Alzheimer’s hotline,” Bein said. “I used it a lot for info and support, and this helps fund that. And of course, we’re looking for a cure. We’re looking to be able to fund research for a cure.”
Neahna Lee, pageant director with Exquisite Royalty, was at the walk for the same reasons. She said her grandfather, Cecil Thomas, died from Alzheimer’s in 2016 and without the pageant system, she would have had a much harder time getting through it.
“My pageant system came together and it’s been our platform ever since,” Lee said.
The members of Exquisite Royalty, each dressed in a white T-shirt emblazoned with Rosie the Riveter flexing her muscle, now knows a lot more about the disease and talks about it when they’re competing. Lee wants young people to be educated about the disease so they’re more likely to help fund research for a cure in the future.
“This is amazing to me,” Lee said. “Alzheimer’s is something that people don’t even know about a lot. To have a whole community come out and work for this, it’s awesome.”