Man begins hiking Appalachian Trail on behalf of mother
By BETH WALTONA Sheville Citizen-Times Sunday,
ASHEVILLE NC — Johnny Morris will do just about anything for his mother, including embark on a four-month hike.
The 23-year-old Asheville resident left Monday to hike the Appalachian Trail. The excursion is a benefit for the local nonprofit MemoryCare, which offers high-quality, affordable care for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
“MemoryCare has been a huge part of my life,” said Morris, who was raised watching his mother grow the charity from just a two person staff to 18 full- and part-time workers. “This is an opportunity for me to give back to my extended community, to my mom and her organization.”
The 2,200 mile hike is intended to generate awareness and to raise funds for the nonprofit celebrating its 15th year.
Morris hopes to raise $10,000 on his walk from Georgia to Maine. He is being sponsored by outdoor outfitters Vasque, Osprey Packs, NEMO Equipment, Leki Trekking and Darn Tough. He’s also soliciting donations.
The trail will not only provide Morris, who recently graduated from Elon University, a platform to talk about MemoryCare with people from all over the country, but it also will give him the summer of a lifetime.
Morris is looking forward to spending time in nature and the simple lifestyle on the trail. He’s packing no more than 34 pounds of gear, including food and water.
“There is not another organization that does work like MemoryCare,” Morris said. “Alzheimer’s is one of the least understood diseases, yet it is a prevalent cause of death.
“The thing about MemoryCare is they spend as much time with the caregiver as they do with the actual patient,” he said. “My mother put her heart and soul into it; it’s kind of infectious that way.”
Morris’ mother, Dr. Margaret Noel, started MemoryCare in 2000. She had been studying geriatrics and the problems related to dementia for years. She had watched families struggle to balance care and the role of the caregiver.
Dementia renders people unable to do basic daily activities and can last a long time, up to 15 years, she said. This stresses caregivers who don’t necessarily receive training or education.
MemoryCare is unique because it serves patients and their families, Noel said.
For every one patient, three caregivers are engaged in the program, Noel said.
“Providing programs to be able to educate the caregiver is critical for the disease to be managed well. It’s a model that goes against the push in the medical community to see people faster and faster. It increases the quality of dementia care.”
When the clinic opened in 2000, it served just 200 families; now it serves 1,000, Noel said.
“Awareness is huge,” she added. “This is one of the biggest health threats to aging Baby Boomers and it really is a family disease. You have to rely on your family to care for you so to see young people like Johnny trying to raise awareness is a game changer.”
Noel could hardly contain her pride as she sat with her son in MemoryCare’s Asheville office.
“MemoryCare is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Johnny has grown up watching this work. To see him help in this way is fantastic.”
Morris knows he is an unlikely spokesman for the disease that mostly affects the elderly. His youth, he said, will help spread the message.
“This is a disease that deserves recognition. It’s a disease that needs awareness. It needs people who don’t necessarily know about it; it needs a new, different audience.”