Santa Cruz woman leads team “It’s A Zoo”

Candy Berlin lost her mother to Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 and has been participating in Walk to End Alzheimer’s® ever since. Leading team “It’s A Zoo,” she’s back this year with unique fundraising events. Candy talked with us about her fundraising approach and commitment to reaching the day the world has its first Alzheimer’s survivor.

 What motivated you to participate in the Walk?

I walk for my mother, Shirley, who passed away after eight years with Alzheimer’s. She was originally misdiagnosed with senior depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and given a series of mood-altering drugs to try.

Watching her personality and behavior change was scary. It was a few years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 73 and family members became active in her caregiving. 

Shirley and Candy
Shirley and Candy

My mom was an independent woman. She worked as a bookkeeper for over 50 years, until she was 66 years old. Then she was a part-time caregiver to my aunt. My parents were married for 30 years and she was widowed in 1978 when my dad had a heart attack. She lived on her own in the Southern California desert until she received the diagnosis.

It was a difficult journey, but my brother and I were determined to care for my mom. With guidance from the Alzheimer’s Association, we were able to coordinate initial care in her home, senior memory care daycare that stimulated her, respite for caregivers and locate a quality group home for her when we could no longer manage her care at home. This disease is the long goodbye and we said goodbye in bits with every month that went by. 

What is one suggestion you would give to someone who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or is a new caregiver?

Don’t go it alone! I encourage people to get involved early with the Alzheimer’s Association. Go to a meeting, get information, and get connected with local resources. Pick up booklets and pamphlets to increase your knowledge and understanding of the disease so you know what to look for and how to care better for loved ones. To me, connecting with the Alzheimer’s Association gave some measure of hope to our family after the reality of her diagnosis.

My top suggestion is to call the toll-free 24-hour Alzheimer’s Association Helpline at 800-272-3900. Even if it is two in the morning and your loved one is wandering and you’re at your wits end, there will be someone on the other end of the phone to help you navigate through this disease. Share this resource with others in your family.

How did you learn about the Walk?

In 2008, my brother and his wife first participated in Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Palm Springs. Then I saw an advertisement in my local newspaper. I registered online right away for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Santa Cruz.

Candy and teammate at Walk
Candy and teammate at Walk

My first two-person team, my husband and me, donated $100 and walked the year after my mom passed. We were proud to wear our purple t-shirts indicating we were part of the Walk fundraiser.

That was fourteen years ago. It gave me a way to use my energy and compassion to work toward a cure.

As a team captain, how do you get other people to participate on your team?

Team “It’s A Zoo” is now up to 10 consistent members, but other friends, family and community members are invited to join every year on Walk day on the Aptos beach near Santa Cruz. It starts with a tiny spark, drawing others in and then they want to take off with it as a team member. Often joining a team is easier for first-time participants than leading their own team.

It’s important to know yourself, know your team and know what it is going to take to meet the fundraising goal that you set. As team captain, I plan and coordinate several fundraising events with input from team members.

I invite team members to play specific roles. I give them instructions and focus so we can each attend to key jobs on event day. I provide each team member with a portion of the money raised so they can put it toward their individual Walk fundraising. It’s a win-win.

What fundraising tips or advice would you share with new Walk participants?

I urge others to start fundraising as early as they can. Make use of email and social media to alert friends and followers to the cause and how to donate. You can even link your email and Facebook to your Walk web page and send out pre-written messages.

I use social media to promote a nice raffle item, like a quilt. Anyone donating $50 or more to my Walk is entered in the raffle and I announce the winner online. But a lot of people aren’t comfortable using social media and an in-person fundraising event may be a better option for them. 

With events, start small; don’t take on something overwhelming. Try not to focus on how much money you raise, just get started. Do you craft? Quilt? Enjoy wine or beer tasting? Playing games? Baking? Biking?

Choose one of your interests as the focus for your event and ask the places you frequent or contacts you already have to support your event by providing space at their location or donating food or supplies. Smaller local businesses tend to work best.

How have your Walk events increased your fundraising?

Events can be labor intensive, but I love doing them and they’ve helped team It’s A Zoo raise approximately $120,000 over the past 14 years. The wine or beer events have been the most successful ones. We also held a chili cookoff and salsa party.

Odanata wine
Odonata wine

For two years, we held a wine tasting event at Odonata Winery and raised about $2,500 each year. When this small tasting room closed, we continued our Walk partnership with the winery, creating a special zinfandel named Remembrance and marketing bottles to Odonata wine club members. We sold 50 cases of wine and raised $12,000. The next year we raised $5,000. Now, year four is in the barrel. I like this evergreen type of fundraising that continues year after year.

For 2022, I have organized our fourth beer-related fundraiser. Working with smaller breweries helps bring new customers to the brewery and a new audience to the fundraiser. This year, Woodhouse Brewing in Santa Cruz is providing the space, donating $1 from every pint sold and creating a specialty brew we’re calling *65 Seconds. It reminds us that every 65 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

We will release the brew at our August 21 event, raise Alzheimer’s awareness, distribute materials, offer games for a donation, have a DJ playing music, enjoy great beer and give attendees time to learn about joining the Walk. Woodhouse will also continue selling *65 Seconds the following weeks, increasing their donation to the fundraiser. 

Another one of my interests that I shared with my mother is golf. I am involved with an annual local golf tournament and was given the opportunity to coordinate it for 2022. This event will increase fundraising as tournament proceeds will now be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

What is your favorite part about Walk day?

I love the energy of the crowd! I love people coming together for the hope of a cure. I love the Promise Garden, the different colored flowers indicating the motivation of the walkers: 

Candy (third from left) with other team members
Candy (third from left) with team members on Walk day
  • blue if you are living with Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • yellow for current caregivers
  • purple if you’ve lost someone to dementia, and 
  • orange supporting a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. 

Each walker can write a name or personal message on the flower. It’s powerful.

I also love walking on Seascape Beach! Our Walk offers both a one-mile inclusive wheelchair accessible section and a three-mile out and back on the sand. I’m just one person in one small Walk, but Walk day reminds me I’m part of something bigger, part of people walking across the country toward a common goal: our first survivor of Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Candy invites you to join her team, It’s A Zoo, at the 2022 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Santa Cruz/Aptos on September 17. Not near Santa Cruz? Find your walk at

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