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2017 amethyst gala: a time to remember
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Kayla Macomber

The most recent numbers indicate that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect more than 200,000 individuals and caregivers in Arkansas alone. The state’s chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is dedicated to helping as many of those people as possible, and it will raise funds for that support at Jonesboro’s third annual Amethyst Gala later this month.

The chair of the 2017 gala, Cynthia Crowson, has volunteered with the organization for five years and first got involved because of her personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Five years ago, I had to contact Jane (Gunter) because my dad had Alzheimer’s,” said Crowson of how she first got in touch with Gunter, the director of development for the Arkansas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We were at the stage it was getting worse and worse, and because I was working full time, my mom needed some help at the house. She gave me some names and agencies, and I got help through her out of Little Rock. My dad proceeded to get worse and then passed away, but that’s how I got involved. She was such a big help when we needed to figure things out during that difficult time.”

Gunter says the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision is simple: a world without Alzheimer’s. Until a cure is found, the organization is focused on supporting those who are affected.

“In Arkansas, over 65,000 people have Alzheimer’s disease, and their caregivers triple that number,” said Gunter. “Alzhiemer’s is the only disease in the top 10 with no prevention, no treatment to slow the progression or a cure. We offer resources such as area support groups, educational programs (and) a 24/7 helpline staffed by master clinicians, as well as research to find a cure for this heartbreaking disease.”

That research is funded by events such as the Amethyst Gala, which also helps get the word out about the organization as a whole and how it can make a difference in the lives of those with Alzheimer’s, their families and their caregivers.

“My main goal is to help other people and let them know we have a place here in Jonesboro that can help them,” said Crowson, a vice president and mortgage loan officer at Bancorp South, where she has worked for more than 10 years. “I wanted to get involved with this and get it going. We also have a walk, but I help more with the gala side. … We try to get the word out with the gala and advertising and let people know that (the Alzheimer’s Association is) out there to help, because not everyone knows we’re there as a resource.

“I’ve enjoyed getting out and talking to people who work in this field every day. I just hope that I can help a family who can pick up the phone and call me any time, and we will be there to help them. I know I’m helping with a cause we really need in this area.”

A new addition to this year’s gala is the Amethyst Award, which Gunter says will recognize an individual, family or company in the Jonesboro community that is inspiring in the Alzheimer’s arena. The winner will not be announced until the night of the Amethyst Gala.

As a seasoned volunteer, Crowson herself has been vital to the Alzheimer Association’s growth in the Jonesboro area.

“Cynthia is a very passionate volunteer, as she has gone through this journey with her father,” said Gunter of the first-time chair. “She wants to help others by sharing information and resources that we offer. It is very important to have community leaders share their story.”

The 2017 chair says that journey is precisely why the annual gala and the awareness it raises are so important to her.

“My dad was an elementary school principal and a state representative,” said Crowson. “It was very hard on us with my dad being so involved in the community. It’s one of those diseases that hits you too fast before you realize, and it affects people of all ages.

“That is why I get dressed up; it’s for my dad. It’s a shame to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning as a totally different person, but that’s what this disease does. I’m very passionate about (helping those affected by Alzheimer’s).

Because someone in the United States is diagnosed with the devastating disease every 66 seconds, the need for more information for those learning to care for loved ones is only increasing.

“I think a lot of people have yet to know that we have this gala or that there is such a local resource for families affected by this disease, but the information is out there now,” said Crowson. “We have the people to help families with the care and support. We have what they need. We just want to keep growing and be able to help more people.”

The 2017 Amethyst Gala will take place on March 25 at Arkansas State University’s Cooper Alumni Center. Guests will enjoy fine dining, lively entertainment, dancing and an auction. For more information about the black tie optional event, visit alz.org or call (501) 265-0027. To bid online on silent auction items, visit biddingforgood.com/alzgala or bforg.com/alzgala for the mobile site.