The Poland family is passionate about raising awareness and supporting efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
They also can be counted on to participate in two of the year’s biggest Tri-City fundraisers for the state’s Alzheimer’s Association.
It’s personal for them. The progressive disease took the life of the Poland family matriarch, Valerie Poland, in 2009.
That’s the year Walk to End Alzheimer’s began in Kennewick.
Poland died at age 59, nine years after she was diagnosed. Her mother also had the disease.
Poland participated for years in the Spokane walk. She died four months before the first Tri-Cities walk, which was dedicated to her.
Her family was instrumental in organizing that first walk closer to home.
Her daughter Melissa Poland-Knapik said her mom would appreciate the family’s continued efforts to raise awareness.
“She’d say keep fighting. This disease takes away their voice. If we can help one person. That’s our Poland family mission. That’s what we want to try to do,” Poland-Knapik said.
The Poland family owns and operates Ray Poland and Sons construction company in Kennewick.
Poland-Knapik and her family will join the Do Walkers team during the eighth annual walk on Oct. 15 at Columbia Park in Kennewick. It starts at the band shell. It had to be moved from Sept. 9 because of poor air quality in the region due to wildfire smoke.
The three-mile walk is one of 16 walks throughout Washington and northern Idaho.
The national nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association expects to raise $2 million, up from $1.7 million raised last year, at the series of Northwest walks. Last year, the Tri-City walk raised $118,000.
“The money stays with the local areas that it’s raised in. It’s used for local educational classes we have, as well as support groups. … The rest of the money goes toward research,” said Leslie Woodfill, special events coordinator in the association’s Spokane office.
Nearly 80 percent of the money raised by the association goes toward Alzheimer’s care, support, research and awareness, 15 percent goes toward fundraising and 6 percent toward administrative costs, according to the association’s website.
The nonprofit also soon will have more of a presence in the area with the opening of a new office at 609 The Parkway in Richland. An open house is planned from 3:30 to 6 p.m., Sept. 20.
The office will provide resources to the community and office space for social workers and volunteers.
“People will be able to come in and talk to somebody who is a social worker and get ideas about what their next steps are and things like that and likely we will have our classes there,” Woodfill said.
Those registered for the Kennewick walk will carry colorful pinwheel flowers to show their connection to the disease. Blue represents someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; purple is for someone who has lost a loved one to the disease; yellow represents someone currently supporting or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s; and orange is for everyone who supports the cause and vision of a world without Alzheimer’s.
This year, a new color will be added to this rainbow bouquet.
“A white flower will be carried by a child in the symbolism that this is the flower of hope and this child and others this age — with advancements we’re making in research — will never be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” Woodfill said.
Those who want to participate in the walk can register the day of the event, though Woodfill encourages advance registration.
It’s free to walk, but Woodfill hopes those who do attend can donate.
Woodfill said 60 percent of the event’s walkers are “zero dollar walkers” who aren’t raising any money.
“It’s fabulous to have that awareness but I have to think even if they give $25 on walk day what kind of an impact that would have on availability of funds on local programs and research,” she said, adding that it’s easy to do by asking friends to contribute a nominal amount.
A variety of vendors will be in attendance to share information about senior care and aging issues, and a photo booth is planned.
The walk moved to Columbia Park this year because it outgrew Clover Island. Last year, 520 people participated and organizers are hoping for 650 this year.
Those who plan to register the day of the event should arrive at 12:30 p.m. The walk kicks off at 2 p.m.
Poland-Knapik said it’s important to her family to raise awareness about the disease because when her mother was diagnosed, people stopped coming by and didn’t know how to talk about it.
“Once you say you have it, you’re going to die with it. There’s not a survivor. Hopefully in my lifetime, there will be a survivor,” she said.
Her sister, Candy Thornhill, oversees a fundraiser in partnership with the Tri-City Americans hockey team. This year’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Night is Oct. 21.
Proceeds from T-shirt and ticket sales plus a silent auction have helped to raise more than $27,000 for the association since 2012.
No Alzheimer’s survivors have been able to drop the puck at the games because no one survives the disease, Thornhill said.
She said her family hopes their efforts help, so one day no one dies from the disease.
Tickets for the game can be bought at http://bit.ly/AmsAlzheimer.
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