Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area

A Creative Exercise: Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area Brings Wellness through Innovation

What if you could get unlimited access to strategies known to improve your life? That kind of innovation could be a game changer. And it’s exactly the kind of innovation developed by the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA), 2019 ORG Awards finalists in the category of innovation.

PFNCA connects Parkinson’s patients to wellness programs in their community, with just a few clicks on the computer and a small administrative fee, which is waived for low-income members. Simply by registering online, answering health questions, and signing off on the rules, participants receive a name badge with a proprietary QR code, along with a welcome kit. With this badge—a sort of “VIP Pass”—they may attend any of PFNCA’s classes at no charge. Since Parkinson’s can affect motor and cognitive skills, family members often assist with registration, and patients can elect to receive communications from PFNCA in whatever way works best, whether via email or good old-fashioned snail mail.

While PFNCA is a relatively small organization, their work offers big pay offs to those with the progressive nerve disorder. Parkinson’s affects mainly people 60 years and over, and symptoms can be wide-ranging and include tremor, slowed movement, muscle rigidity, impaired balance, and speech changes. Mental and emotional issues, such as thinking problems, depression, and sleep disorders can also be present. For this reason, PFNCA takes a holistic approach to supporting those with Parkinson’s.

“We strive to strengthen the physical and emotional health of people impacted by the disease,” says Jared Cohen, CEO of PFNCA. “Our passion, and our purpose, is direct service,” he says.

PFNCA offers courses at 34 locations across 26 cities, serving more than 1,000 patients per year in community-based settings, such as senior living facilities and gyms. Patients can choose from a variety of fun and functional options. Led by experienced instructors, and modified as necessary, the classes include yoga, boxing, dance—and even, yes, rock climbing, all of which can help improve agility, balance, and mood. Importantly, through the classes, participants connect with others experiencing similar challenges and become comfortable sharing with and supporting one another. In addition, PFNCA offers workshops for improving vocalization and social worker-led groups for emotional support.

In addition to tangibly improving lives, PFNCA also aims to educate. The organization conducts a quarterly livestream lecture series called Parkinson’s Pointers, attended by more than 500 people at a time in various cities around the country, and hosts an annual full-day conference led by doctors specializing in Parkinson’s. This year, the conference was held online, adapted for Covid-19. As PFNCA cannot offer exercise classes in person during the pandemic, they have converted them to online formats as well, so patients can still reap the benefits.

At a time when many miss their loved ones due to social distancing, Parkinson’s patients can feel that separation even more keenly. “Parkinson’s isolates people, and we want to bring them together,” says Cohen.

The PFNCA mascot, a friendly orange dog named Amp, helps bring sunshine and cheer. Named for “amplify,” he gives voice to those with Parkinson’s and attends community events, traveling with the Parkinson’s Mobile Resource Unit, launched in July 2019. This new initiative brings educational videos, books, and physician Q&A sessions to the community to raise awareness and understanding of the disease—and will be back in full swing once it’s safe to do so.

PFNCA receives funding from individuals, many of whom have family members or friends with Parkinson’s, as well as corporate donors and a small number of foundations. According to Cohen, PFNCA .ORG designation has helped them not only raise money and awareness, but also to create a larger platform as an independent and local non-profit.

“Being a .ORG is critical to our success,” Cohen says. “It gives us credibility and recognition within the broader non-profit sector and community.”

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