For William Glass, the Outstanding Young Persons award he recently received from the Illinois Jaycees provided a platform.
It was a platform for his message about the importance of funding for Alzheimer's research, and it gave him one small way to make his mother's struggle with the disease less painful.
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"One good thing I can find from Alzheimer's is I got to tell her about the award and she would forget," Glass said about his mother, Eileen, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2010. "I got to tell her again and see how proud she was of me, and she would forget. And I got to tell her again."
Glass, 38, and a former Lombard resident, was one of eight recipients of this year's Outstanding Young Persons award. He won it for an "emotional" journey he completed last year.
The "Flowers for Mom Chicago to Atlanta Walk to End Alzheimer's" was a 750-mile route Glass completed on foot. With all the wrong turns and detours, he said, he actually covered closer to 850 miles.
He used the walk to raise at least $9,000 for the Alzheimer's Association and to meet with staff members for roughly 15 U.S. representatives.
His main message was that Alzheimer's research needs more federal funding, because when it comes to debilitating diseases, money can lead to hope. And when it comes to Alzheimer's, a form of dementia without a cure that attacks the brain and causes slow deteriorations in memory and everyday behaviors, hope is in short supply.
"There's no hope out there that they're ever going to find, if not a cure, a way to put it at bay," Glass said.
But more funding can bring more research, and more research can bring more ideas, and maybe one of those ideas will bring some hope. Glass isn't ready to give up.
A bill President Barack Obama signed into law in January allocated $122 million -- a historically large amount -- for Alzheimer's research, education, caregiver support and outreach, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But federal funding for cancer research totals in the billions, dwarfing the amount given to experiments on the causes of and cures for Alzheimer's.
So Glass is continuing the advocacy he began last August, when he embarked on the walking journey to be near his mother in an assisted-living facility outside Atlanta. This fall, Glass said he plans to drive the same route to keep his cause on the minds of those along the path.
He's doing it not so much for himself or his mother, but for the estimated 15 million Alzheimer's sufferers in the nation and the 15 million relatives and caregivers who provide for them.
"The more I tell the story and the more people I can get in contact with, the more people are going to be realizing that the Alzheimer's Association is out there," Glass said. "There is help out there."
Glass plans to leave about two weeks for the driving version of the journey instead of the two months he spent on the walking version, wandering along rural roads, through small towns and into cafes, parks, fire stations and churches.
"I'm going to take the exact same route, minus all the wrong turns," Glass said. "I've started contacting people I met along the way, letting them know I'm coming back through town and letting the legislators I met with know I'm not going away. I wasn't just some guy who walked through town raising a ruckus."
Glass is a guy whose actions deserve to be recognized because they are truly outstanding, said Yvonne Agnello-Adams with the Lombard Jaycees. Agnello-Adams said she read about Glass' journey in the Daily Herald last year and flagged him as the type of selfless advocate she's always on the lookout for, someone whose contributions have truly bettered a community, a region or the world.
"William Glass' journey completely embodied that," Agnello-Adams said. "For someone to walk from Lombard to Atlanta and take the long way in order to raise more money and raise more awareness just really stood out as something that should be recognized."