Santa Cruz volunteer supports Walk for 26 years

Francie Newfield has participated in the Santa Cruz Walk to End Alzheimer’s since it began 26 years ago. What started out as a way to honor her mother in law, Betty, grew to be so much more. Now as an advocate, volunteer, past board member and fundraising powerhouse, Francie continues to support the Alzheimer’s Association vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementias™.

Francie poses with her mother in law Betty who had Alzheimer's at a wedding
Betty and Francie

Always expressing her kindness and musical talents
Before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Betty was a vivacious woman who served in WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the U.S. Navy’s corps of female members. She married a pilot in the Army Air Corps (which would later become the U.S. Air Force) at the age of 23. Together, they had four sons – which kept Betty busy while her husband was deployed.

Betty was good natured, friendly and interested in politics. Her sons, who remained devoted to her throughout her long illness, always thought she should run for a local office. She was also a gifted artist and with the rare talent of having a pitch perfect singing voice.

After her husband’s death, Betty moved into an assisted living community closer to her son and his wife, Francie. There she frequently played the piano for other residents, always ending with a flourish. Eventually Betty moved to a skilled nursing facility where her still gracious personality earned the friendship of other residents as well as staff.

Betty was active in her community’s social events and made friends everywhere she went. People seemed naturally drawn to her and being hospitable was easy for her.

“Even when her language left her, she’d sit with people and hold their hand,” said Francie. “You could tell by rhythm of her language that she was trying to be sociable and engaging.”

Betty maintained her positive and kind attitude until she passed in 2009, which is one of many reasons why Francie still considers her a true inspiration.  

Francie at the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer's in Aptos
Francie celebrating her birthday at the 2019 Walk

Volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association
Francie got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association in the early 1990’s – prior her mother-in-law’s diagnosis – as both a chapter volunteer and a Walker. In her first year, Francie’s Walk team raised $250.

Francie’s team fundraising has grown over time, reaching $21,000 in 2019. This growth mirrors the evolution of the Santa Cruz Walk and Francie’s overall involvement with the Association.

She has played a significant role on the Santa Cruz Walk committee, helping to identify sponsors for the event that’s been hosted at Seascape Park and Resort. This year, she’s helping to plan the Main Stage opening events. As a walker, Francie finds the beachside route inspiring. She often catches a glimpse of dolphins along the path and always enjoys the Taiko drummers performing at the turnaround spot.

“What’s changed the most since we started the Santa Cruz Walk is the size of the event,” Francie said. “Every year we’ve had more participants and more sponsors. It almost feels like an annual reunion and is so incredibly inspiring.”

Supporting families
Over the years, Francie has led or participated in countless efforts benefiting the Association, including securing high-profile guest speakers, serving as a committee and board member, and ultimately influencing public policy.

While Francie loves all of her activities, she finds her work as a caregiver support group facilitator to be the most fulfilling of her many Alzheimer’s Association volunteer roles .

“I love engaging with families, listening to them sharing their family’s experience with Alzheimer’s and supporting one another. It’s so, so important,” Francie said.

“Many patients see their social circles shrink because their friends and family don’t get it, which puts a lot of pressure on caregivers. Support groups give them a comfortable space to voice their concerns and exchange ideas with people who truly understand the challenges they’re facing.”

Francie and Jack Farr at the Santa Cruz Walk to End Alzheimer's
Jack Farr, the “Father” of the Santa Cruz Walk and Francie

Fundraising during a pandemic
Francie’s “claim to fame” is her annual fundraiser ahead of the Santa Cruz Walk. The event started small, with Francie only inviting her closest friends and coworkers to her birthday party. It was a simple backyard affair that quickly progressed into a catered event with with a donation basket that quickly fills with envelopes – all in lieu of gifts.

Because of the pandemic, fundraising will look much different this year. Francie has come up with new and creative way to raise funds. “This year’s Walk is as important as ever,” said Francie. “My team already had a virtual kickoff party. [As of the posting of this blog] we have raised almost $6,000 towards my team’s goal of $10,000.”

Francie hasn’t given up on her birthday celebration either; she has something new up her sleeve. “I’m having a Zoom dinner instead of the in-person event,” said Francie. “My friend, who is also normally the caterer, has agreed to lead anyone who donates in a cooking class. This way everyone gets to enjoy his amazing food, and we’re still able to raise funds for Walk.”

Francie and her friend at her first Walk in the 90s

Still walking
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is still happening this year, despite the pandemic and recent CZU Complex Fires. While we may not all be coming together in one big group, we’re still walking on every sidewalk, track and trail in our communities.

This year, Francie is sad she won’t be able to see the Taiko drummers or walk along the beach with so many other supporters. Instead she is looking forward to wearing purple and walking with her team at a park near her office. Of course, they will be following CDC guidelines and wearing masks as they walk.

 “There is still a lot of enthusiasm about Walk this year,” said Francie. “It’s an uplifting event, and we encourage everyone to participate.

“I’m in charge of helping to organize part of this year’s virtual opening ceremony that you can watch from home on Walk day. It’s going to be a really great event.”

Francie, Congressman Jimmy Panetta and Coutny Supervisor Zach Friend at the Santa Cruz Walk to End Alzheimer's.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta, Francie and County Supervisor Zach Friend

Walking to make a difference
As a support group facilitator, Francie has seen the impact that Alzheimer’s disease has on families financially and emotionally. This is why raising funds has become so important to her.

The money raised through Walk to End Alzheimer’s goes towards the Alzheimer’s Association care, support and research activities. Francie says, “I know how Alzheimer’s affects families, and we need to find a cure while we continue to support those living with the impacts of Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.”

You can join Francie’s team, Lifespan Cares Fun Raisers, or form your own team and join us for the Santa Cruz Walk on September 26. We’re still coming together in 2020, even if it means trying something new. Not in Santa Cruz? Register today at alz.org/walk and be the first to know about Walk in your area.

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