Lake Mary’s Lauren Carlson is using her passion for dance to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease, a cause that is close to her heart.
For 23 years, Lauren Carlson’s grandfather Charles DeBord, now 78, has been living with Parkinson’s disease. The degenerative neurological disorder is now in its late stages, and Charles has been in and out of the hospital several times over the past year. He can no longer be left alone. And while the family is fortunate enough to have a caretaker help Charles, Lauren’s grandmother, Louise, continues to face the daily challenges of living with a loved one who is battling the devastating disease.
Parkinson’s has also affected the rest of the family. Lauren and her younger sister Brooke can hardly remember a time when their grandfather was able to speak in full sentences, and Lauren’s older brother Alex often reminisces about times when he and his grandfather used to throw the football and share long talks.
It was one year ago when Lauren, who has been dancing since the age of six, was inspired to blend her passion for dance with her dream to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. The final assignment in Lauren’s eighth-grade civics class challenged students to create a project to make the world a better place, and Lauren decided to host a dance showcase called Dancing for Parkinson’s.
“I picked Parkinson’s disease because of the way it has impacted my grandfather and my family,” says Lauren. “My goals were to increase awareness of the disease and raise money to fund research to find a cure.”
From her experience performing in dance competitions and recitals, Lauren knew that producing a dance showcase would require much coordination and planning. Luckily, she received a tremendous amount of help from her community.
Lauren’s civics teacher, Tatiana McKinney; her fine arts teacher, Janine Papin; her studio dance teacher, Tamara Duvall; and Lake Brantley’s dance team coach, Dana Mote all helped Lauren plan for the stage, lights, sound equipment, and resources needed to put on a high-quality show.
Lauren’s current dance teacher agreed to bring her studio’s squad to perform, and a few of Lauren’s previous dance teachers, who have danced in professional shows like Cirque du Soleil and So You Think You Can Dance, also agreed to perform. Once the word got out, other local dance studios reached out to Lauren asking to participate.
To bring education and awareness about Parkinson’s to the show’s attendees, Lauren scheduled guest speakers from the Parkinson Association of Central Florida and Dr. Suzanne Salapa from AdventHealth’s Movement as Medicine program. The speakers emphasized the importance of dance as a therapy to benefit those with Parkinson’s.
In addition, Lauren received local business support with logos, T-shirts, brochures, and flyers to promote the show. She partnered with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which helped Lauren set up a website to take donations.
Thanks to everyone involved, Lauren was able to put on a major production for 500 attendees and raise nearly $5,000 for Parkinson’s research.
Lauren’s mother, Denise, says she is extremely proud of her daughter for having the courage to take on a project of this magnitude.
“Our entire family, especially my father who has Parkinson’s, were touched that she picked a cause that has had such an impact on our family,” says Denise. “I am thankful that this event has helped her understand the importance of giving back to others and how a community of volunteers can come together for an important cause like Parkinson’s disease.”
Looking back, Lauren says she’s learned so much about the powerful impact dance has on Parkinson’s patients.
“When I decided to combine one of my passions in dance with a cause that affected me and my family, I didn’t realize how connected the two were,” says Lauren. “Many Parkinson’s patients dance because of its therapeutic qualities. Dance helps patients improve motor planning, balance, gait functions, social interactions, and it activates brain functions that can be impaired by Parkinson’s.”
Because last year’s show was such an enormous success, Lauren decided to organize the showcase again this April.
“There is no known cure for Parkinson’s,” she says,” but I want to continue to help fund research until we find one.”
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