“Did you know that in five years one out of two people will know someone with Alzheimer’s or have it themselves?” asked Meierhoefer, a fitness instructor at the Cleveland YMCA.
Before 7 a.m. she is dressed and ready to teach fitness, as well as listen to her students’ life problems. She teaches five different classes a total of 13 times each week.
“I work with the older population and it is scary how prevalent Alzheimer’s is,” Meierhoefer said. “I have heard my students’ stories and the more people I talk with, the more people I find have been diagnosed at the age I am now.”
As a baby boomer, Meierhoefer said she enjoys being active. After hearing one too many stories, she decided she wanted to help make a difference.
“It all started with a Christmas tree,” Meierhoefer explained. “I had it sitting out in my house. Every time I found a red or purple ornament I would buy it for the tree. I’m afraid my husband did not believe the tree was very manly.”
The tree was eventually placed beneath her bed. This past fall, Meierhoefer came across the boxes used to store the tree and ornaments. Repeatedly she asked herself how she could use the two to raise money for Alzheimer’s. Inspiration hit as she saw a flyer for Alzheimer’s awareness.
“It occurred to me that I could auction off the tree and give the money to the Alzheimer’s Association,” Meierhoefer said.
She shared her idea with a friend from one of her classes, Susan Monk. Monk’s mother, who recently passed away, had Alzheimer’s and the issue is very close to her heart.
“It was Susan who pointed out to me that I could raise more money by selling off the ornaments separately,” Meierhoefer recalled. “Her suggestion made me realize that we would need more ornaments.”
In response to the realization, Meierhoefer hosted two ornament-making workshops at her house. Students from her classes attended to support the Alzheimer’s cause.
“It was a great time for my students to get to know one another,” Meierhoefer said. “I provided the paint and supplies. We talked as we created.”
Students and friends alike worked through two workshops. Meierhoefer soon became the proud owner of nearly 500 ornaments. Next came the task of finding a way to display the bobbles to the public.
Meierhoefer received her answer on a visit to Cherokee Pharmacy in Cleveland.
“After chatting with the store owners, I told them about the fundraiser,” Meierhoefer explained. “They were the first store to allow me to put up a Christmas tree to display six dozen, or so, ornaments.”
Six other businesses soon followed: Tanglez, Deli Boys, HiderHangout, the YMCA, the Art Guild, and Hideaway Diner of Charleston.
Each location received five- to six-dozen ornaments.
“The ornaments are showcased on Christmas trees and opened for purchase by the public,” Meierhoefer said. “All small ornaments are $5 and the large ones are $10.”
Monk once again proved instrumental by helping out with the businesses.
“Susan was actually the one to get Deli Boys to participate,” Meierhoefer said. “They had helped her with her fundraiser and they were interested in helping with mine, as well.”
Monk recently held a silent auction for three handmade quilts. All proceeds went to the Alzheimer’s Association. As with Monk’s fundraiser, Deli Boys jumped on board with full force.
The owner of the sandwich shop only had one objection to Meierhoefer’s plan.
“Chris did not like my tree,” Meierhoefer recalled. “His grandparents and his wife’s grandparents had suffered from Alzheimer’s. They wanted to get a big Christmas tree and buy lots of lights.”
Paintings from Meierhoefer’s students have also been donated for the fundraiser. There are currently two paintings for sale and one up for a silent auction.
“The paintings are just beautiful,” Meierhoefer said. “One of the paintings can be found at the Cleveland Art Guild.”
The paintings, as with the ornaments, have been made with care. One painting depicts a snowy winter night. Snow is falling from the sky and glitter reflects from the surface. In the center blazes a lone, old-fashioned street lamp.
The ornaments have been placed and the trees have been put up. Meierhoefer is now waiting for members of the public to do their part.
“You see the progression of the disease to the point where these people are like babies,” Meierhoefer said. “It is amazing. It is 2011 and there is so much they do not know.”
Meierhoefer has already been able to donate $300, thanks to the businesses’ cooperation and the public’s reception. Anyone interested in buying an ornament or painting can do so at one of the seven locations. All paintings and ornaments will be sold through Christmas Day.