Sigma Kappa/Courtesy Photo

“It’s the most tragic disease,” Sigma Kappa chapter member and business administration and journalism junior Gabi Trapani said. “I feel like I’ve been saying goodbye to my grandpa for years.”

For the past 12 years, Trapani has watched her grandfather lose his memory through Alzheimer’s, a disease that 5.3 million Americans have struggled with as of 2015. Alzheimer’s causes memory loss, muscle coordination and pneumonia, among other symptoms.

The final five years of life for a person with dementia in the United States can cost more than $250,000, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Alzheimer’s Association is a health organization that provides support, research and care to people with Alzheimer’s.

Cal Poly’s Sigma Kappa Epsilon Omega chapter has raised the third highest amount of money in the nation for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I’m sure in some way shape or form it has affected almost every single girl because everyone knows someone that has been affected by the disease so indirectly it has affected everyone,” Sigma Kappa Vice President of Philanthropy and industrial engineering senior Melanie Lemaster said.

Since 1989, the Sigma Kappa Foundation has raised more than $1 million for the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2016, Cal Poly’s Sigma Kappa chapter raised more than $37,000, earning its place as the third largest fundraiser, behind University of Missouri’s Sigma Kappa chapter ($59,676) and James Madison University’s Sigma Kappa chapter ($49,950).

The Epsilon Omega chapter raised the money primarily through the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which took place on Oct. 29. For the three months leading up to the event, more than 200 Sigma Kappa members received donations.

“It feels so good and so rewarding; we’re all excited we’re able to play such a big role and make difference,” Lemaster said. “At Cal Poly we’re such a small school so it feels good to be a part of it.”

Each year, Sigma Kappa sets a fundraising goal. This year, the goal was set at $35,000, an increase of $10,000 dollars from 2015.

“When I took over this position three years ago, Sigma Kappa used to just come and volunteer on the day of the walk,” San Luis Obispo Alzheimer’s Association program and development director Sonya Laputz said. “So the first year I had them raise $100 a piece, and they did it. They raised $9,000 dollars; the next year they tried harder and this year we pushed them even farther. It’s amazing.”

The San Luis Obispo Alzheimer’s Association serves more than 12,000 families in the county and decides if the money will go toward research, care or support. Without a cure, 14 million elderly people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

“Trying to wrap your mind around the fact that one day you will forget the memories and people in your life that you once loved is by far the hardest part about battling Alzheimer’s,” Trapani said.

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