For Rob LeBlanc, perhaps the most special part of each year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the Promise Garden experience.
Participants in the walk each receive a flower on which they can write a personal message, and those flowers are held up as part of a collectively display during the ceremonies associated with the walk.
The flowers come in four different colors representing a person’s connection to Alzheimer’s disease – blue for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, purple for those who have lost a loved one to the disease, yellow for caregivers, orange for all who share the hope of a world without Alzheimer’s.
“It’s a really powerful display of solidarity for the cause, and for that couple of minutes, everyone is just unified,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a beautiful sight. It’s a powerful thing to see.”
LeBlanc knows well how devastating Alzheimer’s can be, and has dedicated himself to bringing people together in the fight against the disease.
His journey to involvement in the walk began several years ago, when his grandparents – with whom he was close, and who have since passed way – were diagnosed with dementia. He recalls the shock and pain of watching the effects of the disease unfold, of seeing the slow but dramatic change it brought about it in his loved ones.
His mother, meanwhile, faced the challenges that come with being a primary caregiver. The impacts affected the family as a whole.
“We were so unaware and naïve – ignorant, I would say – to what was going on, and certainly didn’t know about the help that was out there,” he said. “The more it affected the family, the more I got interested in understanding what options existed out there. That’s when my awareness increased, but my involvement increased in well.”
LeBlanc – then living in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and working in Boston – became active in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Boston following encouragement from his wife, Bethany. Through the connections he built through the event and the Alzheimer’s Association, he learned more about the broad reach of the disease – and how to fight back.
Then, in June 2017, LeBlanc started a new job as a vice president at Citizens Bank. He and his family subsequently relocated to Rhode Island, finding a new home in Cranston. He worked out of the bank’s offices in East Providence before he and thousands of colleagues moved to the new corporate campus in Johnston.
In 2018, using his experience from the Boston walk, LeBlanc organized a Citizens team for the Providence Walk to End Alzheimer’s held at Roger Williams Park’s Temple to Music. It was the first time a team had been organized for the company locally, and the Citizens group was part of the roughly 2,500 people on hand.
“It just seemed like a logical fit, because Citizens has such a strong footprint already in the area,” LeBlanc said.
More than 100 people took part in the team, which raised approximately $15,000 to support the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, as the Sunday, Oct. 6 date of this year’s event nears, he is again leading the charge as team captain.
“We had a great response last year, and we’re hoping to increase that this year,” he said. “It kind of sells itself in a way, because it’s surprising when you just initiate the conversation how many people have been affected … It’s really broad-based, and this is a great opportunity to spread the word, because there’s a lot of great stuff going on in terms of programs and support.”
The Citizens team is hoping to have more than 200 members for this year’s walk. Its fundraising goal is $20,000.
“It’s ambitious, but I’m hopeful,” he said, noting that his time on the job and his new proximity to many more colleagues at Citizens’ Johnston campus has created opportunities for greater outreach. “Now that my network is expanding … It’s given me a lot more runway, I think, to move this forward.”
LeBlanc has also been named a co-chair of the Providence walk’s planning committee, a role he was “honored” to be offered after last year’s event.
Beyond providing financial support for the Alzheimer’s Association, LeBlanc said the walk serves a vital purpose in terms of raising awareness of Alzheimer’s and connecting members of the community with resources.
“This is a really awesome event, and people enjoy it,” he said. “You know, it’s a mix of emotions, because you’re happy, you’re supportive, there’s a tremendous amount of hope and energy. But at the same time, there’s a lot of people who are suffering. To the extent that we can help them, even just by showing up and being there, that’s a support mechanism … By you physically being there, that’s a show of support. That’s a show of hope.”
The Citizens team welcomes many people beyond colleagues at the company, including friends and family members. LeBlanc said his mother has been “passionately involved” in the walk, while his wife is a “huge supporter” and his daughter – now a student at Virginia Tech – has also been active in the cause.
“My family, my friends, even my pet have all participated … The more the merrier,” he said.
LeBlanc also noted that there is no registration fee for the walk, and that volunteers are always needed.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for anyone who’s interested,” he said.
Registration for the 3½-mile walk begins at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 6, while the ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m.
For more information about the Providence Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Citizens Bank team and other walks in the area, visit act.alz.org. The walk’s coordinator, Bella Garcia, can be reached at 421-0008 or email@example.com.