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American Parkinson Disease Association Optimism Walk celebrates community

Many attendees at the American Parkinson Disease (APDA) Connecticut Chapter’s Optimism Walk come to support friends or family members of theirs who have Parkinson’s disease.
Lily Hultgren ’25
Many attendees at the American Parkinson Disease (APDA) Connecticut Chapter’s Optimism Walk come to support friends or family members of theirs who have Parkinson’s disease.

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) Connecticut Chapter held its annual Optimism Walk at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport on Saturday, Sept. 30. The event’s purpose was to bring people together to support those with Parkinson’s disease (PD), as well as raise funds for the organization. Activities began at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony being held at 11 a.m which was followed by the walk, a 1.5 mile route.

At the event, sponsors as well as health centers, hospitals and more had tables providing resources that offer support to those with PD. After the walk, attendees were given a free pizza lunch and individuals who had raised over $1,000 received Circle of Optimism Medals.

“My favorite part is just seeing the different familiar faces each year, as well as the new ones who come together and persist,” Holly Seymour, APDA Connecticut Chapter Program Director, said. “Despite their diagnosis, the families coming together, both young and old, all together, walking for the same purpose of supporting the American Parkinson’s Disease Association.”

 

During the opening ceremony, (left to right) Karen M. Bruce, Jennifer Barnhart, a American Parkinson Disease (APDA) Connecticut Chapter Board member, and Erika Forte, Board President of the APDA Connecticut Chapter honor Mary Barnhart, who had passed away in June. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, and was able to find a community through the APDA, participating in many of the organization’s seminars, activities and classes. (Lily Hultgren ’25)

 

This year’s event was in memory of Mary Barnhart, who had passed away in June of 2023. She had been diagnosed with PD in 2015. Her daughter Jennifer Barnhart, a board member of the APDA Connecticut Chapter, and Board President of the APDA Connecticut Chapter Erika Forte spoke during the walk’s opening ceremony to honor the late Barnhart.

“I was so moved and grateful that the CT Chapter of the APDA chose to honor Mom and her memory at the Optimism Walk in Westport, her favorite venue by the water,” Barnhart said. “When Erika called to tell me about it, I burst into tears. It was a beautiful day full of remembrance, and I felt so much love for Mom, everywhere I turned.”

When Barnhart was first diagnosed, a friend connected the Barnharts to Forte and her husband Michael Forte, a Person with Parkinson’s (PWP). The Fortes supported them and later introduced them to the APDA, where Barnhart and her mother began taking part in many of the organization’s events and activities. The late Barnhart especially enjoyed the boxing and dance classes.

Many sponsors, which range from pharmaceutical companies to senior living companies, have tables at the event. One of these tables is run by Miss Luzerne County’s Teen 2023 Arianna Spurlin (right). The Pennsylvania native’s community service initiative, “Unshakable: Raising Awareness of Parkinson’s”, aims to support those in overcoming and working through Parkinson’s disease. (Lily Hultgren ’25)

 

“Mom was not someone who would ever have joined a support group, “ Barnhart said, “but these classes provided her with a de facto one, a community of fellow people with Parkinson’s.”

The APDA is the largest grassroots organization for supporting those with PD, and it has different chapters throughout the country. The Connecticut Chapter has two Optimism Walks each year, one in Westport during the fall and another walk during the spring. The chapter also offers education programs, wellness programs, exercise programs, financial support programs, community grants, resources about PD and support groups that aim to provide a space to offer support to and connect those within the Parkinson’s community.

“We have almost 30 support groups here in Connecticut, and anyone can join: the person with Parkinson’s, care partners, spouses, friends, family members,” Marlane Argianas, Chapter Coordinator of the APDA Connecticut Chapter, said. “They’re a really wonderful group of people, they get together and often they have guest speakers that talk about Parkinson’s and, you know, different treatments and things like that.”

(left to right) Karen M. Bruce, Jennifer Barnhart and Paul Hebron take part in the Optimism Walk. The 1.5 mile walk is accessible to wheelchairs and it is up to each person how much they want to walk. (Lily Hultgren ’25)

PD is a neurodegenerative disorder that has motor symptoms such as tremors and non-motor symptoms including cognitive impairment among others. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, although about 500,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD, due to many going undiagnosed or being misdiagnosed, the disease has been estimated to affect around 1 million Americans. In the United States, after Alzhemier’s disease, Parkinson’s is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder. 

“So many people give up hope with this diagnosis,” Forte said. “And it’s just important to keep going and keep having hope and optimism that they will not only find a cure, but find ways to live a better life.”

 

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About the Contributor
Lily Hultgren ’25, Paper Features Editor
For Paper Features Editor Lily Hultgren ’25, joining Inklings was an opportunity to improve her interpersonal skills and do something she loves in the meantime.  ““I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and interview people I don’t know, which is something I get nervous about,” Hultgren said.  As a junior, a veteran now, in Inklings, she thinks that the organization has helped her push beyond these fears. She has definitely seen her own improvement.  “Having to constantly talk to new people for articles and for broadcasts has really helped me learn more about myself and other people.”

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