Author: Johanna Stiefler JohnsonPublished: 4 March 2021
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The annual Parkinson’s Unity Walk, which unites campaigners around the world, is going virtual this year. We find out about the “totally new experience” that’s on offer – from an online poetry corner to a resource library packed with expert advice
For more than 25 years, the annual Parkinson’s Unity Walk has served to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease research.
“The Unity Walk was founded in 1994 by an incredibly brilliant visionary woman in New York City who had Parkinson’s disease,” says Carol Walton, president and CEO of Parkinson Alliance – the US umbrella organisation behind the event. “One of her goals was that 100% of every dollar raised would go to research. Since the beginning, we have raised over US $33 million – and today we can still say that 100% of every single dollar goes to research.”
The walk has grown from 200 participants at its first event to around 11,000 participants in 2019, expanding to include over 26 countries and almost all 50 states in recent years.
“For people with Parkinson’s disease, the walk allows them to realise they’re not alone in this fight,” says Carol. “That’s really what the day represents.”
The 2019 Parkinson’s Unity Walk in Central Park, New York City, US
Going virtual – and global
Due to the pandemic, this year’s event will be hosted online – offering a “totally new experience” for participants.
“We did a lot of due diligence on what it means to be a digital platform, and how can we share the platform easily with our community,” says Stacey Walstrum, development director at Parkinson Alliance, “especially for a group that might include people who aren’t as tech-savvy.”
The result has brought not only a digitalised Unity Walk to fruition, but one that offers year-round tools and resources to the global Parkinson’s community.
The Unity Walk’s Resource Library will consist of two parts: the Expert’s Corner and the Wellness Centre. Parkinson’s disease experts will share their knowledge through video interviews and printable content curated in the Expert’s Corner, while the Wellness Centre will provide information on topics like mental health and physical activity.
With regular “curated and comprehensive” instalments that will be updated with participant feedback and areas of interest, the Resource Library will be accessible to Parkinson’s community whenever and wherever they choose.
On 24 April, the traditional day of the Unity Walk, a web-based agenda of videos, activities and designated walk breaks will help to capture the spirit of an in-person event. Participants will have the opportunity to take part in a number of initiatives, including the Live Virtual Mosaic and the My Story Poetry Corner. The Live Virtual Mosaic aims to unite people through an interactive photo experience, while the Poetry Corner will invite creative submissions that capture participants’ connection to Parkinson’s disease.
“Everybody can share their story with the community, even though we can’t physically be together,” says Stacey. “When our folks attend the Unity Walk, they share their story with other people like themselves. Both of these tools allow them to be part of the bigger picture on that day, with lasting mementos that they can keep.”
The Poetry Corner also helps pay tribute to May May Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali – the legendary boxer who lived with Parkinson’s disease. “May May Ali is one of our greatest ambassadors and reads a poem at the Unity Walk each year,” says Stacey. After the poetry event, a flip-book keepsake will be printed and signed by May May Ali.
May May Ali at the 2019 Parkinson’s Unity Walk
Parkinson Alliance is calling for anyone interested to take advantage of these and other free resources – and to get involved as much as possible on 24 April.
“This opportunity to be virtual has broadened our reach beyond the New York metropolitan area and those who are willing to travel there to a global audience,” says Stacey. “We would love to have everybody come together around the world and celebrate the day with us.”
My Story Poetry Corner: A submission-based creative space for participants to share their experience with Parkinson’s disease. After the event, a flip-book keepsake will be printed and signed by May May Ali.
Live Virtual Mosaic: A live interactive photo experience that compiles participant-submitted images into a mosaic. The mosaic can be shared, printed and preserved as a memento.
Resource Library: Consisting of an Expert’s Corner and a Wellness Centre, this hub will provide essential information on recent research findings, wellness support and more, curated in short videos and related downloadable content.
Activity Tracker: An addition to the Unity Walk smartphone app launching in March, to help people with Parkinson’s disease track physical activity. The app tracks duration of activity, making it inclusive to all types of exercise.
Team Huddles: Offers an opportunity for Unity Walk Team Captains to gather on a Zoom call at designated dates and times, based on availability. Captains can connect to discuss the walk, fundraising, team-building activities and more.
Partner Alley: Featuring interactive flip tiles with embedded links to virtual booth sites, Partner Alley aims to improve the visibility of event sponsors, increase accessibility and aid ease of use.
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