“Anything is possible if you have enough nerve,” once said British author and Harry Potter creator JK Rowling. Allison Hemrick, Community Outreach Provider for Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care of Mt. Airy, NC, tends to agree as it relates to her journey thus far in heightening the awareness of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “In 2011 I led Alzheimer’s support groups when my closest friend’s mother was diagnosed with the disease,” begins Allison. “Not only did I see first-hand what a devastating disease it was for her mother but also her [friend’s] entire family. She had been my rock when my mother had cancer, so I wanted to be there for her.” Allison invited her friend to participate in the support group which ended up being very beneficial.
In 2012 the number of calls requesting information on Alzheimer’s, as well as the number of patients that had dementia, grew to represent half of Allison’s case load at work. It became clear to her that Mt. Airy needed to rally together as a community to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s. “I went to my supervisor and asked her if we — myself as well some of the members of the support groups — could start a Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Mt. Airy. She replied, ‘yes, if you can get it off the ground, we will help you with recruiting additional man power and resources.’” Mountain Valley Hospice and Twelve Oaks Memory Care Facility co-sponsored the first Walk. While it was a wonderful experience, Allison admits it was also a little bit scary. “I was tasked with deciding where to have the walk, getting the various permits and making lots of cold calls, but I really did enjoy all aspects of planning it.” Everyone involved put in their best effort and 33 teams constituting around 300 walkers gathered at Riverside Park, a central location for the community. Winston-Salem NBC affiliate Channel 12’s Meteorologist Lanie Pope was also on hand to share the story of her mother who was currently living with Alzheimer’s (later passing) which Allison believed was an additional draw to the event. “We were hoping that we’d possibly raise about $2,000 but ended up with over $12,000! It was such a wonderful feeling! I kept the poster from that first year’s walk as a constant reminder because it says, ‘Anything is Possible’.”
“Alzheimer’s is such an ugly disease and the number of those living with it continues to increase,” asserts Allison. More funding is needed not only to support those individuals but also their caregivers in learning how to best look after them. She firmly believes that public awareness is just as important as fundraising. “Those who may not be directly impacted now by Alzheimer’s should be encouraged to join a team and participate now. Anyone who has participated for the first time has shared with me that it is a life-changing experience.”
Again this year, Allison will be a part of the planning committee for Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Mt. Airy taking place on September 12. Allison considers herself fortunate to be a walk member of The A Team along with this Robin Portis and Walk Chair Pam Padgett. Sadly Robin lost her father to Alzheimer’s in August 2019 so this year will be extra meaningful to her on a number of fronts. When asked if ‘A’ was for Allison, she replies with a laugh, “Absolutely not! Robin’s daughter Rebecca actually chose the name. Rebecca and the rest of her family love comic book heroes and they thought of the “A Team” like the 1980’s popular television series with Mr. T.” Further, at the time that Robin joined the Walk, it was challenged financially. Naming their team the “A Team” symbolized a comeback for the Mt. Airy Walk. It did indeed bounce back in a big way; therefore, the name is that much more meaningful. To date, in conjunction with the Walk itself, the “A Team” has successfully diversified its fundraising efforts through a booth at the Farmer’s Market, bake sales at Mt. Valley, church bingo, crazy outfit days and silent auctions.
On the day of Walk to End Alzheimer’s, each ceremonial component is meaningful to Allison, but perhaps the most compelling is for her to witness those who are living with the disease participating in the day’s activities. “When the blue flowers [represent individuals living with Alzheimer’s] are raised and those individuals speak either on their own or with the help of their caregiver during the Promise Garden ceremony, I know first-hand how difficult it may be for them to do so. It is a very moving experience.”
In addition her involvement with the Walk, Allison also volunteers as a trained Alzheimer’s Association Community Educator. Delivering education programs in her local community to groups like the Mt. Airy Women’s Club, Rotary and area churches are commonplace. Allison particularly values the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline and local support groups when working in the community. “It’s comforting for [support group participants] to be in an environment where they are joined by others who are facing similar situations and there is no judgement. They realize that they are not alone.” Allison also focuses specifically on the Latinx community for some of her outreach, interpreting the services that Mt. Valley offers. Her involvement here highlights the fact that this community is about one and one-half times more likely than whites to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Additionally, she is a tireless advocate for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers both at the state and federal level, fighting for policy priorities that will make a real difference. She has attended several Alzheimer’s State Advocacy Days in Raleigh, and even hosted a Coffee with Congress event featuring Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.
Allison’s perseverance and passion to fight Alzheimer’s disease is clear through her work on all parts of the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission. Her personal and professional drive has helped countless families find comfort and plan for the future.
Inspired by Allison’s journey? Everyone has a reason for walking. Start your own team or join an existing team for one of our nineteen North Carolina walks:
The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s.
When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.
Register today at alz.org/walk and be the first to know about Walk in your area.
2020 WALK DATES
Alamance County – 9.26.20
Asheville – 10.10.20
Charlotte – 10.17.20
Fayetteville – 10.31.20
Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln – 9.12.20
Guilford County – 10.17.20
Henderson County – 9.26.20
Hickory – 10.24.20
Iredell County – 10.10.20
Jacksonville – 10.17.20
Moore County – 9.26.20
Mount Airy – 9.12.20
New Bern – 10.25.20
North Wilkesboro – 10.10.20
Robeson County – 10.24.20
Rowan-Cabarrus – 10.24.20
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) – 10.10.20
Wilmington – 11.7.20
Winston-Salem – 10.3.20