When Paul Lake learned that two people in his subdivision had Parkinson’s disease, he felt a wave of sympathy. When he heard that a third neighbor had Parkinson’s, he felt even more deeply concerned. And when a fourth neighbor developed this progressive, incurable neurological disorder, he knew it was time for action.
That summer, he and his good friend Bob Dames launched the inaugural Chipping Away at Parkinson’s, a novel wiffle ball golf fundraiser that played out over two sprawling, wooded properties in the Brandonmore subdivision in Union Township. Three years later, the event is a testimony to what neighbors helping neighbors can accomplish. Last year the event donated $26,000 in proceeds to UC Health’s James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, one of 14 centers and programs of the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute. Organizers hope that this year’s event, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19, raises even more.
When Paul initially approached Bob about doing a golf fundraiser, Bob wasn’t sure because so many charity golf outings already existed. But Paul’s idea was a catchy variation on the golf theme.
“For years I’ve played wiffle ball golf when we camp,” Paul said. “I told Bob, ‘How about a wiffle ball outing – Chipping away at Parkinson’s – and right on my property and my neighbor’s property?’”
Bob, the owner of Flipdaddy’s, liked the idea so much that he promptly signed on as the event’s corporate sponsor.
“Our neighbors understood the need and felt like they had to do something,” Paul says. “Other neighbors jumped in as well.”
The event was an immediate hit, and proceeds of roughly $12,000 and $18,600 from the first two events were sent to the New York-based Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has awarded $450 million to researchers for innovative projects, including some at the Gardner Center.
Last year, the Chipping Away tournament committee discussed the possibility of keeping the funds in Cincinnati to help with local research efforts. “With Michael J. Fox, we’d have a wonderful event, send a check, and that was it,” Paul says. “We felt that we were just a number. Keeping the funds local was a no-brainer, and we embraced it completely.”
That decision has made a difference, says Alberto Espay, MD, MSc, the Gardner Center’s director. With help from donors and events like Chipping Away, the Gardner Center was able to offer patients with movement disorders access to 31 clinical trials during the 2014-2015 academic year.
“The Chipping Away funds have already served to foster our research and education missions,” Dr. Espay says. “These funds can also become important seeds for pilot clinical studies that are eventually reviewed at the level of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for additional support. We are forever indebted to Paul, Bob and their fundraising team for their unwavering commitment to advancing the fight against Parkinson’s disease at UC!”
A family-friendly affair
The cost of Chipping Away is $25 per person for golf and/or food, $100 for a foursome, and $50 for a family. Hole sponsorships, which are still available, and a bid-and-buy auction bring in most of the funds. Golf begins at 10 a.m.; the cookout starts at 6; and a 60’s/70’s rock band plays from 8:30 until 11:30. About 400 people are expected to attend at some point during the day and evening.
“We have a great time,” Bob says. “This is the only sponsorship Flipdaddy’s does all year. The Braxton Brewing Company is our beer supplier, and we have some great prizes. It’s just a really fun day. I’ve been blown away by the kindness of my neighbors and friends and volunteers to put it together. It’s very heart-warming.”
How exactly is wiffle golf played? Each golfer gets a wiffle ball and uses a single golf club (an iron). Hula hoops serve as golf holes, which are marked by professional looking pins. Real scorecards are used, and prizes are awarded for lowest-scoring female, lowest-scoring male and best foursome. The competition seems to be heating up, Paul says. “But the golf is not what it’s about.”
The event is about finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a progressive and disabling neurological disorder that affects five million people worldwide, more than one million in America, and four dear neighbors in a single subdivision in Union Township.
— Cindy Starr