By Robin Fong
Joanne Conzelmann is a member of the Humboldt County Walk to End Alzheimer’s Planning Committee. Conzelmann and a few other volunteers helped plant a Promise Garden using real flowers. The Promise Garden Flowers represent participants’ connection to Alzheimer’s — their reasons to end the disease. With the help of the City of Arcata, a local nursery and Walk volunteers, the garden was planted this spring. They hope it will encourage community members to join Walk to End Alzheimer’s® and help find a cure.
Connecting with the Alzheimer’s Association®
In 2011, Joanne Conzelmann returned to work at the Humboldt Senior Resource Center as the director of Adult Day Health and Alzheimer’s Services. The previous director had planned a 2-day dementia care conference that Conzelmann was to lead. At the conference she met staff from the Alzheimer’s Association who had volunteered to present at the conference.
“The Alzheimer’s Association is not only the leading funder of research, they also lead the way in educating and supporting individuals, families and the professional service providers in our community,” shared Conzelmann. “They provide 24/7 access to consultation and support. In short, they enrich what our senior service communities can offer. They partnered with us in providing ongoing education to the community and helped keep training costs affordable and accessible. They were always available to answer questions and offer ideas on how to enhance services.”
Bringing the Walk to Humboldt County
Each year, the Humboldt County community gets together to walk side by side with one common goal: to end Alzheimer’s. Humboldt County is composed of small towns, but their Walk to End Alzheimer’s often gets a large turnout of caring volunteers. “I think that the people who volunteer are so incredible. They really care. It’s a really inspiring and uplifting Walk,” said Conzelmann who is now the Mission Chair of the Humboldt County Walk.
Conzelmann worked for the Humboldt Senior Resource Center for 26 years. Now in her retirement she continues her passion of caring for the elderly community by volunteering and raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Conzelmann was part of the original team that worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to organize the very first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Humboldt County. “It’s gotten better every year!” she exclaimed. Each passing year, Conzelmann has witnessed more and more volunteers coming out to show their support during the Walk.
Walk was everywhere in 2020
Last year, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was everywhere. Instead of coming together for a big event, participants were asked to walk within their communities, wearing purple and carrying flags.
The committee could not be stopped and found a way to connect with participants even when apart—proving that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s really was everywhere. “We planted hay bales as [Promise] Gardens in each town [within the county],” explained Conzelmann.
The hay bales were loaded up with Promise Garden Flowers which are colorful spinning flowers corresponding to the relationship walkers have with the disease (living with Alzheimer’s, caregiver, etc.). That way participants could walk to a local Promise Garden and write their own message on a flower as a symbol of their support. “It was really fun, and really well received,” said Conzelmann.
Planting a real garden
Arcata’s Mayor, Brett Watson (who was Vice Mayor at the time), loved the Promise Garden so much he asked the committee if they would be willing to plant a live Promise Garden in the Alcala Plaza. The committee eagerly agreed and Conzelmann began to put together a group of friends who could help.
“I put out a post on Facebook,” said Conzelmann. “At first I was discouraged because I only heard from one person. So I picked up the phone and called friends and colleagues who I know enjoy gardening. It became a really strong crew.”
The live Promise Garden continues to be fully supported by the city. The flowers were donated by a local nursery, Mad River Gardens. The city waters it regularly and keeps an eye on the garden in case animals have eaten some of the flowers. Kim Coelho, Walk Manager for Humboldt County, put together a sign-up sheet for volunteers to continue to tend the garden.
In addition to organizing the walk, Conzelmann has been working hard to raise funds to support the Alzheimer’s Association. For the past six years she has been sending letters and donation sheets to friends and family. Now, the donors have come to expect the donation requests, asking Conzelmann when she will next send out the letters.
Conzelmann also does her fundraising through Facebook. A participant can log onto the Walk website and connect it to their Facebook account. All donations received through Facebook will be credited to the participant’s fundraising goals. For Conzelmann, Facebook allows her to accept donations from a wider pool of donors.
Last year, Conzelmann’s team, Remembering for ALZ, raised $3,760 and hopes to raise a similar amount this year.
Being a volunteer
Conzelmann puts in a lot of work to coordinate Walk each year. “I feel really strongly that we need to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and it’s critical we do this. I want to see us find a cure so my children and grandchildren don’t have to face [this disease].” Conzelmann explained her motivation.
As they are approaching Walk day, the committee is getting busier and busier. “I am so grateful to have a volunteer partner like Joanne,” said Coelho. “Her enthusiasm for the Walk is contagious. In addition to being the Mission Chair, she is also an Elite Grand Champion [individual walkers who raise over $2,500]. She works tirelessly to support those with the disease and to create a world without Alzheimer’s. More volunteers like Joanne would be wonderful.”
This year’s walk
It comes as no surprise that Conzelmann’s favorite part of Walk day is the Promise Flower ceremony. “[I really enjoy] the Promise Flower ceremony,” said Conzelmann. “[It’s the] part where we promise to do what we can to fight the disease and find a cure in whatever way we as individuals can…[it’s] so heartfelt and inspiring.”
This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s continues to monitor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to recommendations. As of the posting of this blog, Humboldt County Public Health has advised against in person events for the time being.
Register today to get the most up to date information on Walk day plans. “We will be walking,” says Coelho, “Even if it’s not from the Adorni Center. Walk is anywhere, and we hope you’ll join us this fall.”
Joanne Conzelmann encourages you to join her Walk team, Remembering For ALZ, or form your own team and join us for the Humboldt County Walk on October 9. Not near Humboldt County? Register today at alz.org/walk to find out more about being a part of Walk in your community.
Interested in becoming a Walk volunteer? Find out more on our website.