MAHOPAC, N.Y. - This June, Karen Ganis of Mahopac will visit Italy with a group that plans to make a 115-mile pilgrimage on foot from Palermo to Agricento.

The trip, called a camino in Italian, is regarded as a spiritual journey for many who make it. For Ganis, it will also be a chance to honor her father, who died 20 years ago from Alzheimer’s disease. She has made her trek a “Longest Day” fundraiser to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter.

The Longest Day, named in recognition of the long days spent by caregivers of people who have dementia, encourages people to do any activity they choose any time they choose to raise awareness and money to help end Alzheimer’s. While Longest Day fundraisers do not have to be held on the actual summer solstice, the timing of Ganis’ trip aligns perfectly. She will begin her pilgrimage on June 21.

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“It was good timing for it; it was a good location for me,” Ganis said. “I just thought it would be a really nice way to challenge myself, and it just happens that the first day of this hike is on The Longest Day. At first, I thought it would just be more about awareness, but when I found out it was on The Longest Day, I realized it would be great to raise money.”

The group she will travel with, called The Temple Project, consists of 16 people from around the world. Most are from the United States, and there are also participants from England and Australia. Many members of the group have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Some are going to raise money, and others are doing it for the experience alone.

Ganis said she was going to have to do some training to physically prepare for her journey, which is 115 miles long through rustic territory.

“I’m not a hiker; it’s not my thing. I just started to hike and bought new hiking boots,” she said, noting that she will have to carry a pack with her and walk on uneven surfaces. “How am I going to walk 115 miles if I can’t walk 50 feet? I’m training. I’m pretty physically fit. I’m not so much worried about the way we have to do it.”

A longtime advocate and former board member for the Alzheimer’s Association, Ganis said she hopes to raise $10,000 for the cause. She said she plans to shoot short videos of herself on the trail in honor of different people every day.

“There are eight days of hiking. I’m going to video myself doing little snippets of who I’m doing it for on each particular day,” she said. “The first day and the longest day, I’m going to do for my dad. The next day, for my grandmother, my father’s mother. Then for three of my father’s siblings and my cousin, one of my aunts who had Alzheimer’s, and now her daughter has it. So, for me, it’s a very personal mission.”

Ganis is also encouraging people who donate to her fundraiser to share the names of loved ones they wish to honor so she can read their names out loud when she reaches her destination.

“I told people that if they make a donation when I get to Agrigento I will read every single name in memory of whoever the donors want to have honored so they kind of will be with me,” she said. “If I get 10,000 people to donate a dollar, what a beautiful thing that would be.”

She said her dedication to the Alzheimer’s Association results from the nature of the disease, which robs loved ones of the ability to say goodbye.

“I miss my dad every single day. My mom died from cancer. People ask me, ‘Why do you fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Association?’ Really, it’s because when my mom died, we were able to have a conversation; we were able to say goodbye,” Ganis said. “We could be at peace with the situation. But when my dad died, he was just taken from us. I do what I do so another family will not have to have that experience.”

Her family history makes her determined to see an end to Alzheimer’s.

“We do what we do to make that change. I still hope for a cure. I don’t want my kids to watch me the way I watched my father.”

To donate to Ganis’ Longest Day fundraiser, visit http://act.alz.org/site/TR/LongestDay2019/TheLongestDay?px=2770067&pg=personal&fr_id=11896

Article courtesy of Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter