Ashley Tracey was in middle school when her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“He was the spitfire of the family,” she remembers. “He was the one who would give you a wet willy when you were playing cards to try to distract you.”
Although they didn’t live in the same area and she didn’t get to see him on a weekly basis, what struck her most each time they visited was how quickly the disease progressed in her grandfather. She was still in middle school when he passed away.
“How could someone with so much spunk fizzle out so fast?” she wondered.
When Ashley moved to Denver 3 ½ years ago and was looking for a way to make friends, she discovered the Blondes vs. Brunettes flag football event sponsored by the Colorado Young Professionals chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It sounded like a lot of fun, a great way to meet people, and a way to raise awareness and funds for the disease that had claimed Grandpa Tracey,” she recalls.
Little did Ashley know when she signed on to the Brunettes team that several years later she would end up coordinating the event! In June she came on board as the Special Events Coordinator for the Colorado Young Professionals.
The Alzheimer’s Association has Young Professionals groups throughout the country. The point of these organizations is to show the public that Alzheimer’s is not “an old person’s disease.” It affects people of every age, whether it’s yourself with an early-onset diagnosis (sometimes as early as in your 40s!), or whether it’s a family member of any age that can do little more than stand by and watch as the disease progresses.
Ashley says, “Being involved with the Denver Young Professionals group has been an amazing adventure. Each member of the Board of Directors has a powerful personal story to tell, and this is what makes the group so effective at raising awareness and holding successful events.”
While the group doesn’t have an official membership, there are about 350 young people active in the group. They hold monthly advocacy meet-ups, where they have a speaker during happy hour. During the Christmas season they visit care communities and help decorate. They have a fundraising team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and a cornhole bean bag toss tournament beforehand. Last year they had so many participants that the rounds lasted for eight hours before a champion could be declared! They are also planning a gala for next year to include fancy dress and silent auction.
And, of course, there is the big Blondes vs. Brunettes flag football game. The kick-off and recruitment party takes place in March, a draft day party in April, and then team practices begin. They have the good fortune to be supported by the Denver Broncos, whose cheerleaders liven up the game at the end of June. Last year, they raised $127,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association with this event.
All these events raise funds for Alzheimer’s support groups, research, and the TrialMatch program (matching people up with appropriate clinical studies).
Does your area have an active Young Professionals group affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Association? If not, Ashley says, “Finding a good network is key. Social media is wonderful for this, as is getting out in the community and networking face to face. Find a group of people who want to work to end Alzheimer’s and who have different strengths. Get organized – – put together a mission statement and a board. Get sponsorship and support from your employers. College towns are ripe picking grounds for graduates wanting to get involved and make a difference. If you need ideas, please reach out to me via the Young Professionals Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado’s website contact form.”
Fighting back against Alzheimer’s disease takes many forms. The Young Professionals groups have proven that the fight can be fun, and filled with lifelong friendships.
–Jean Wentz, Production Assistant