WEST ORANGE, NJ — The annual Essex-Hudson-Union Walk to End Alzheimer’s doubled in size this year, as more than 1,000 people attended Saturday’s event, hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association Greater New Jersey chapter (AAGNJ) at West Orange’s South Mountain Recreation Clipper Pavilion, in support of the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases.

Compared to the roughly $67,000 raised at the 2017 event in West Orange, more than $142,500 had been raised by the start of Saturday morning’s walk—and donors continued to contribute after being inspired by an emotional opening ceremony.

"The Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday was a beautiful example of a community rising up proudly and coming together to help end this terrible disease,” said AAGNJ Executive Director Cheryl Ricci-Francione. “They fund raised, they walked and they supported one another—because this is not a battle that can be fought alone."

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The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s biggest fundraiser to help find a cure for the disease, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. According to Ricci-Francione, there are currently 6 million people in the country struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and another 16 million serving as their caregivers.

Advocacy Ambassador Jeannie Castells, who has lost several families to the disease, introduced Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey’s seventh district as her “champion when it comes to Alzheimer’s.”

Lance announced at the event that President Donald Trump signed a bill on Friday devoting $2.34 billion at the federal level for Alzheimer’s research.

“The fact that so much funding will be raised today is an example that the country is united in fighting against Alzheimer’s,” said Lance. “We are united as a nation on this issue. The $2.34 billion is an increase of $425 million over the course of the last year…Together we will overcome the scourge of Alzheimer’s, and I am convinced we will be victorious.”

According to event chair Rita Whetton, who volunteered on the planning committee alongside her husband, Dave, and son, Enzo, a total of 137 walk teams participated in Saturday’s event. Individuals, families and more than a few dogs also walked in the event, including this year’s top individual fundraiser Steve Taggart, who single-handedly raised more than $5,000 for the cause.

“As many of you do, I stand here today with a burning passion to rid the world of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dave said on behalf of the Whetton family. “We, all of us here today, can be thought of as a new family—a community of soldiers battling Alzheimer’s. We come together on this day as hopeful, passionate, caring individuals who together can and will make a difference in our futures.”

Dave noted that “Alzheimer’s disease is not prejudice,” and does not care about political affiliation, sexual orientation or skin color. He implored the Essex-Hudson-Union communities to keep their fundraising momentum going throughout the year, or to simply get involved in the efforts to raise awareness.

“We must stand up and speak to our elected officials; we must stand up and speak to our colleagues; and, yes, we must stand up and speak to our families and friends, whether they want to hear us or not,” he said. “The time is now to raise funds; the time is now to raise awareness; and the time is now to work harder than ever before. Alzheimer’s does not take a day off and neither should we. On with the fight.”

Echoing these sentiments were Robyn Kohn, AAGNJ director of programs and services, and Dali Serrano, a 52-year-old woman who is at the beginning stages of early Alzheimer’s disease. Serrano shared her story, explaining that six out of her mother’s nine siblings, including her mother, have Alzheimer’s and that two others are also beginning to show symptoms.

“I share my story because I want people to know that this is not just an old person’s disease,” she said. “My mom was diagnosed at 60, and although she’s still alive, she still needs to be taken care of every day.”

In order to create a visual of how many people are affected by the disease, five different colored flowers were distributed to walkers: orange for those who support the cause; purple for those who have lost someone to Alzheimer’s; yellow for those who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s; blue for those who are currently struggling with Alzheimer’s; and white for the next generation—kids who believe they will live in a world without Alzheimer’s.

The flowers were raised color by color to create a powerful message prior to dispersing for the two-mile walk.

Ricci-Francione described the Alzheimer’s Association’s three-pronged approach to fighting the disease, which includes providing care and support, assembling researchers from around the world to find a cure and advocating with politicians to ensure that laws are passed to provide those in need with the rights they deserve to deal with the disease.  She noted that none of this would be possible without the volunteers and sponsors that support the Alzheimer’s Association every day.

In addition to thanking the many volunteers for their “commitment, passion and enthusiasm,” Ricci-Francione also acknowledged the Township of West Orange and the Essex County Parks System for hosting this event.

"We could not have been received more warmly than we were by the West Orange Township Council,” she said. “Thank you to Council President Susan McCartney for recognizing the severity of this bipartisan issue, and for helping to spread the word about the event."

McCartney attended Saturday’s event alongside fellow council member Victor Cirilo.

“I was so proud to see West Orange showcased so beautifully this morning, serving as host to the Essex-Hudson-Union Walk to End Alzheimer's at the South Mountain Recreation Clipper Pavilion,” said McCartney. “I was pleased to be on hand to hear Congressman Leonard Lance state an additional $425 million has been approved in the 2019 Health & Human Services budget to bring federal funding up to $2.34 billion for Alzheimer's research, hope and technology."

In thanking the event sponsors, Ricci-Francione announced that Edward Jones, a financial services firm and the national presenting sponsor for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raised $4 million across the country this year and nearly $16,000 in New Jersey. Major corporate sponsors for the Essex-Hudson-Union walk also included Prager Metis, Saint Barnabas Medical Center and RWJBarnabas Health, Execu|Search replacement firm and more. All sponsors are listed in the photo album above.

“Edward Jones stands with the Alzheimer’s Association in this fight because we have seen through our clients, through our own families and friends, what this disease can do and we want to do something about it,” said Gary Jones, representing Edward Jones at Saturday’s event. “For over 95 years, Edward Jones has built a culture based on personal relationships and helping our clients create and manage their wealth. This is a disease that destroys those very things that we stand for.”

Execu|Search brothers Larry and Scott Dolinko, who raised nearly $8,000 through their team and sponsored the event at another $5,000, also spoke during the opening ceremony. In their fourth year participating in the walk, the brothers spoke of their commitment to fighting the disease in honor of their father, who has been living with the disease.

Walks are being held all over the country to help raise funds for research and awareness about the disease. To find a walk or to become involved, click HERE.