The summer solstice, on June 21, is the longest day of the year, literally and figuratively. It’s the day with the most hours of sunlight. It’s also the eponymous day of the Alzheimer’s Association’s creative and rapidly growing fundraiser.
On The Longest Day, people all over the world participate from dawn to dusk in an activity they enjoy doing to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association. People can choose to play bridge, while away the hours in rocking chairs, design jewelry, or bake pizzas and then eat them accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
“I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s. After she died, I needed a place to channel my anger, use my voice, and continue to make a difference.”
The goal is to chase away the darkness that is Alzheimer’s, said Stephanie Foster, development associate at the Alzheimer’s Association Oregon & Southwest Washington Chapter.
Last year the fundraiser brought in $7.8 million, up from $1.7 million its first year in 2014. It’s still small in comparison to the association’s best-known fundraising event, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which raised $96.9 million last year. But the Longest Day is growing in popularity, with participants in all 50 states, said Mike Lynch, Association spokesperson.
The extra dollars go toward programs for people living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. These include hundreds of support groups nationwide, the Association’s 24-hour helpline and in-person and online education programs, Lynch said. And, of course, research. The Alzheimer’s Association is behind only the governments of China and United States in its funding for Alzheimer’s research.
A major investment now is a $35 million commitment to fund a two-year clinical trial to test whether lifestyle interventions can protect cognitive function in older adults, a first-of-its-kind, large-scale study.
In preparation for the June event, Foster and other organizers work to help people channel their own energy, interests, and passions into activities they can share with others. An ideal activity creates community, provides an opportunity to educate others about Alzheimer’s and dementia and brings in dollars. “My job is to find what people love to do,” she said.
Foster described how one woman from Portland was stumped for ideas last year, so she asked about her hobbies. “I do puzzles,” said Shelley Karp, who 12 years earlier had lost her husband to Alzheimer’s. An all-day puzzle-party open house was born.
“It was her 70th birthday, and it was a great way to spend it,” said Foster, who was one of 40 people that day who stopped by to work some puzzles and leave a donation. Karp is planning another open house this year.
Foster said that some people participate in The Longest Day as individuals, and some simply ask for donations via Facebook. Most, however, form teams; the largest team in her region so far — a Dragon Boat racing squad — involved more than 50 people last year. A team in Bend, Ore. organized a 5k “color run” complete with bags of colorful powder to dust the runners’ clothes in a rainbow.
Sometimes the groups are made up of families. One high school English teacher from Independence, Ore. joined his mother’s Longest Day walking tour group in Edinburgh, Scotland last year and decided he wanted to take part again this year.
He and his writer friends decided to launch a writeathon. Team Writing Against the Darkness was formed, and six authors will hole up June 21 in a Lincoln City, Ore., home on the coast to do what they do best – write and share stories.
Stuart McLeod of Needham, Mass., lost his sister, Sara, last year to Alzheimer’s. She had been a pediatric clinical psychologist who lost a near-decade long battle with the disease at 62.
“Early on I knew I wanted to be able to give back and try to help those families that suffer from this disease and help find a cure,” McLeod said.
A year before Sara died, McLeod created The Washburn Challenge, a day of biking and kayaking along a portion of Cape Cod, followed by a celebration with live music, a cookout, and a silent auction.
He raised about $12,000 the first year in 2017. Last year, he raised $75,000, making it one of the highest-netting fundraisers in the country. “This disease touches everyone indirectly somehow,” McLeod said. “Mine is an open invitation to friends and family and their friends and family with one caveat — we are raising money to end Alzheimer’s.”
Florence “Pippy” Rogers of Moreland, Ga., is on the board of directors for the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The retired educator is teaching Laughter Yoga this year on The Longest Day and also taking part in Game Day at her local memory-care facility.
Other people in her region raised funds while sidewalk painting, reading or racing their riding lawn mowers.
“I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s,” Rogers said. “After she died, I needed a place to channel my anger, use my voice, and continue to make a difference.”