Reno’s top Walk fundraiser shares her tips

Raising more than $5,000 during a global pandemic is no small feat. But Nancy Chontos of Reno has done just that. She shares the secrets to her success as she honors her mother who is currently living with Alzheimer’s.

Nancy hugs her mom Helen who is living with Alzheimer's
Nancy and Helen

Beloved schoolteacher
Helen Soffer, Nancy’s mom, was a beloved schoolteacher. Even after her retirement, Helen’s students would write to her to share how grateful they were for her guidance. Helen loved the fact that she was able to help her students go after the careers and education that they wanted.  

“I am proud of my mom,” shared Nancy. “She was able to mold the lives of people and help them do what was right for them.”

Time to see a doctor
In 2011, Nancy’s stepdad, who was living with dementia, suddenly became very ill. There was something about his illness that made Nancy and her family think there was something wrong at home.

“Mom was in charge of his medication,” said Nancy. “We finally realized that she was accidentally overdosing him.” Assuming this was a sign of aging, Nancy bought Helen a box of pill holders and didn’t think anything more of it.

It wasn’t until Helen got lost on the way to Nancy’s house, a familiar location, that Nancy knew it was time to see a doctor. “Mom was supposed to be at my house when she called me,” said Nancy. “She said, ‘I don’t know where I am, but I’ll get there.’ We stopped her from driving after that.”

When Helen received her Alzheimer’s diagnosis she cried. “My mom was never one to show a lot of emotion,” shared Nancy. “She said to me, ‘I was never the prettiest woman in the room, but I was the smartest. Now I’m going to lose what I am most proud of.’”

Nancy kisses her mom Helen who is living with Alzheimer's
Nancy and Helen

Joining a support group
From the moment her mother was diagnosed, Nancy jumped into action. She contacted the Alzheimer’s Association office in Reno and joined a support group. “This is a group of people who get it,” said Nancy.

“My best friend is fabulous, but she doesn’t have anyone in her life with Alzheimer’s. You can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve gone through it. That’s what I get from the support group. It’s that sparkle in someone’s eye who’s been there.”

Asking for donations
The other thing Nancy did was sign up for her local Walk to End Alzheimer’s®. The first year, Nancy set a small goal of just $250. “I blew through it,” said Nancy. “I reached out to friends, coworkers, and old neighbors.

“I shared the statistics about Alzheimer’s with them: how many people are getting it and what the cost could be for people if a family member got it. Most importantly, I shared my personal story about my mom, and how we both have an Alzheimer’s risk gene.”

Currently there are 49,000 Nevadans aged 65 or older who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2018 there were 704 deaths from Alzheimer’s in Nevada, an increase of 261% since 2000. This makes Alzheimer’s disease the 6th leading cause of death in the state.

“We have to get the word out about this disease,” said Nancy. “Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family and coworkers. If you don’t ask, they definitely won’t donate.”

Nancy and husband hold flowers at Reno-Sparks Walk to End Alzheimer's in honor of her mother
Nancy and husband hold promise flowers at Reno-Sparks Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Collecting donations from Facebook
The Facebook fundraiser has been a great tool towards Nancy’s fundraising efforts. It has worked so well for her that she received an award as the Individual Walker Most Active on Social Media.

“It’s really easy to get the Facebook fundraiser set up,” said Nancy. “All you need to do is push a button in the Walk participant center and they’ll walk you through the steps. It made it easier for people to donate. All they have to do is click and enter their donation.

“Social media is very powerful. Let’s say you’re $100 short of your goal. You can create a post telling people you only need $100 to hit your goal and ask for their help. Another idea is to tell them you only need 10 people to make a $10 donation to meet your goal.”

Teaching yoga for donations
Another way Nancy raises funds is by teaching yoga. “I’m a certified yoga instructor and before the pandemic I taught two free classes,” said Nancy. “I was giving them something they needed and in return, I ask for their support in donations.

“I told them they can donate any amount they’d like. All those little donations add up, and it makes people feel good about what they’re doing.”

Because of the pandemic, Nancy has moved her yoga classes to a virtual platform and is now teaching all of her classes for free. “Many people want to send me money,” said Nancy.

“Instead, I provide them with a link to my team page for the Walk. I tell them why it’s so important to me and my passion for the cause.”

Extra special flair
In 2018, before the Reno Walk, Nancy wanted to do something special for Walk day. She was getting her hair done and asked the stylist to add in a swatch of purple, which has now become Nancy’s signature look.

“It’s a great conversation starter,” said Nancy. “Whenever someone asks me about it, I tell them it’s for Alzheimer’s and share my story. I wear it all year round now.”

Elite Grand Champion status
We originally interviewed Nancy in February, prior to the global pandemic. Just two months into the year she was already an Elite Grand Champion (someone who has raised over $2,500). This status has earned her several incentive prizes.

Since then, she has more than doubled this amount. As of the posting of this blog, Nancy has raised over $5,100.

A sign at the 2019 Reno Walk to End Alzheimer's that says they support research

Supporting research and care
The funds raised through Walk to Ed Alzheimer’s support local programs, such as the support group that Nancy has attended. They are also used to fund research on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Currently the Alzheimer’s Association is investing over $185 million in more than 540 research projects in 30 countries.

While the world may look a little different right now, the passion that Nancy has for Walk to End Alzheimer’s hasn’t changed. “My goal is to find a cure in my lifetime,” said Nancy. “The way I see it, one in three people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. If it’s not you, then it’s a friend or family member.

“Research is how we’re going to get there, and you need to have the money to support that. This is why I’m so passionate about raising funds for the Walk.”

You can join Nancy’s team, Helen’s Helpers or form your own team and join us for the Reno-Sparks Walk on October 24. We’re still coming together in 2020, even if it means trying something new. Not in Reno? Register today at alz.org/walk and be the first to know about Walk in your area.

Learn more: