If it hasn’t been made evident by now, we love people here at AAT! We love hearing about their stories and passions for our community, but we also love hearing about what our fellow locals do and why they do it! For example, we have some wonderful neighbors who own/manager some fantastic local businesses and serve our town tremendously by doing so! This fact is why AAT has partnered up with our good friends at B3 Glass, to bring you all “Small Business Fridays!” Each week, we’ll feature a different, local small business and talk with its owner and hear about their journey, their business in general, as well as their heart for their customers and our city!
Sometimes, I (Anthony Crosby) will choose to use this “Small Business Friday” platform to highlight a local group/organization rather than a traditional business. Why? Because even though they may be doing fantastic things in the community, some of these groups don’t get the recognition they deserve. Furthermore, we here at AAT believe everyone has a story worthy of being shared (not just the institutions with money and resources). With all of that in mind, let’s introduce this week’s guest, Karla Walker, the coordinator of Elko’s Parkinson’s Support Group!
If you’re unfamiliar with the illness, Parkinson’s disease affects the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. Common symptoms include muscle rigidity, tremors, slowness of movement, changes in speech, and walking difficulties. After diagnosis, treatments can help relieve symptoms; however, there is currently no cure at the time of this feature’s publication.
Karla Walker, Elko resident of fifteen years, took over leadership of the group from its founder, Steve Parish, a couple of years ago and has been doing amazing things to support families impacted by this disease. The group itself meets monthly for a time of communication, education, and socialization. I dropped by one of their gatherings to prepare for this article, and I left feeling welcomed and informed. As someone who has zero personal experience with Parkinson’s, my time with these individuals was enlightening.
Thank you for not only meeting with me for this interview, but also for inviting me to check out the group, Karla! How did you get involved with it in the first place?
“I got involved in 2011. My mom has Parkinson’s. I saw an ad for the group in the newspaper, so I went because we knew nothing about the illness before she was diagnosed. The group welcomed me; they allowed me to understand what they were going through, so I could understand what my mom was going through.
“The group separated for a little bit. However, a couple of years ago, Steve brought us all back together to tell us that his Parkinson’s had progressed so much it was getting hard for him even to write. He asked if somebody would take over, and I told him I would help. That’s how I really got involved!”
How many people do you have involved with the group, Karla?
“There are many people who are unaware of the symptoms, but, as of now, I have around twenty families involved with/getting support from the group. We have members in Spring Creek, Carlin, Elko, and Elburz.”
Karla, why do you care so much about this group? What drives you to put so much effort and passion into it?
“I think it’s because I feel for these people. I understand what they’re going through. Many of them don’t have cell phones or computers because they’re older, so I feel as if it’s my duty to provide them the best assistance. I’ll help in any way I can, whether it be helping someone clean their house or giving them a ride to the doctor. As I mentioned, my mom has Parkinson’s. However, she doesn’t live here in Elko; she lives in Montana. So, people ask me why I still do this even though she’s not here, and I tell them it’s because I believe God has sent me to do this.
“There’s a large population of elderly people in this community without siblings, children, or children who want to be involved. So, I try to be a mama bear for all these people. Some of these individuals have a lot of pride, and they don’t like to ask for help. Sometimes you have to twist their arm to help them; otherwise, they’re going to get kicked to the curb.”
What are some of the more challenging aspects of leading a support group, Karla?
“One of the toughest parts is getting the people to trust you, so they can feel comfortable coming out and visiting the group. Nobody wants anybody, especially people they don’t know, to know they have Parkinson’s. People get embarrassed. Finances can also be tough. Everything that is purchased for the group comes out of my own pocket. We’re not a 501(c)(3). We’re not a non-profit. We’re just a group of people who get together and talk with one another.”
Karla, AAT has been happy to give you and your support group a proper platform which will, hopefully, lead to some more awareness for what you’re doing in the community. Is there anything else you would like the Elko area to know before we let you get back to preparing for next month’s meeting?
“I want the people to know that there is support out there; there’s lots of support. Even if someone does not have Parkinson’s, they can still come to the group. I’m never going to turn anybody away. I don’t do this for me; I do this for the people. I don’t care if my name gets put out there. I want people who are going through this to know that there are others out there who can relate and help. I want these people to know that somebody cares.”
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See you around, Elko!
Written by: Anthony Crosby
Edited by: Nadara Merrill