Graduate students, staff embark on Parkinson’s Unity Walk next month

By Shelby Ashline

Official "Central Park" Facebook Page
(Official “Central Park” Facebook Page)

Graduate students and staff from the University of Massachusetts communication disorders department will participate in the 22nd annual Parkinson’s Unity Walk on Saturday, April 23 in New York City’s Central Park.

Lisa Sommers, clinic director at the Center for Language, Speech and Hearing, clinical professor in the communication disorders department and captain of the UMass team, decided to form the team to encourage her students “to connect in the community.”

“We’re trying to teach students all the different ways that you can be an effective speech language pathologist,” Sommers said. She explained that this includes learning and evaluating research and picking good techniques to use with patients, but also “learning to connect with people on a personal level” by joining support groups and participating in events like the Unity Walk.

“It’s about more than being in a therapy room with someone,” she continued. “It’s about advocating and being there in the different ways that you can, and that includes (community events like the Unity Walk).”

The UMass team, which has never participated in the Unity Walk before, currently has 16 members who have already raised $1,610 toward their goal of $2,000. All teams involved in the Unity Walk have already raised a total of $426,684.

Sommers considers the Unity Walk to be a great way for her students to participate in community service, particularly because 100 percent of the donations are distributed among the seven major U.S. Parkinson’s disease foundations to fund research.

The event also features informational booths where participants can speak with healthcare experts and meet with representatives from the various Parkinson’s foundations. Sommers sees the event as “an opportunity to learn about Parkinson’s disease and develop some specialty knowledge in the area.”

To raise funds, the students have set up a Facebook page for the event, where they share information about ways to donate or participate. On March 8, the team held a fundraiser at Chili’s in Hadley, where attendees could present coupons that allowed them to donate 10 percent of their bill to the Unity Walk fund.

As the Chili’s fundraiser raised $50, it has been a small part of the fundraising efforts overall. A raffle is also being organized featuring donations from members of a Parkinson’s disease support group in Hadley. Sommers hopes to have a table set up in the Campus Center starting in mid-April so students can readily buy tickets.

Otherwise, donations have come primarily from students’ families and local businesses such as The Harp, which donated $200, according to Sommers.

“Within the first day or two we already had $600 worth in donations,” she said. Sommers believes there has been such tremendous support for the cause because Parkinson’s has “touched almost everyone’s lives.”

Prior to the event on April 23, Sommers said “the students are, under their own funds, going down to New York City.” Many members of the UMass team will carpool or commute by train from friends’ residences nearby.

Sommers said it is “really, really important to support research for Parkinson’s disease,” because “a lot of research is still needing to be done to intervene and help people deal with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”

The cause of Parkinson’s is currently unknown, and while treatment options help to manage symptoms, there is no cure, according to the UMass team’s fundraising website.

The Unity Walk, then, is a way that “people with Parkinson’s disease and the students can share this common goal” of supporting research in hopes of someday finding a cure, said Sommers.

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.