WILLMAR -- A new website providing resources and information on Parkinson's disease is part of a recently launched initiative to make Willmar a Parkinson's-friendly community for people with the disease and their families.
The effort is funded by an Otto Bremer Foundation grant to the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota.
Willmar is among three communities, along with Alexandria and Fargo-Moorhead, to receive one of the grants.
The grant will help improve quality of life for people with Parkinson's and their families by strengthening and connecting local resources, said Julie Steen, executive director of the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota.
The new website, www.willmarparkfriendly.com, gathers information on local services and support groups in one easy-to-use place. It also features a blog and information on symptoms and management of Parkinson's, plus a link to the National Parkinson Foundation.
"There are a lot of resources in this community for people with Parkinson's," said Ann Garrity of the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota. "We just want to make the world a little friendlier for people with Parkinson's."
An estimated 20,000 Minnesotans are living with Parkinson's disease, a chronic, progressive neurological disease for which there is no known cure. Nationally, Minnesota ranks third per capita in the number of people affected by Parkinson's.
One component of the Bremer grant will provide respite grants to eligible caregivers so that they can take a break from caring for a family member with Parkinson's disease. Grants are $500 a year per person for qualifying caregivers.
The Parkinson Foundation also has developed "Aware in Care," a kit to help individuals with Parkinson's disease and their family navigate a hospital stay, communicate with hospital staff and advocate for their specialized health needs.
Grant-funded activities will take place in the designated communities for up to two years. Garrity said one of the goals is to increase community awareness and encourage innovation in creating a Parkinson's-friendly environment -- for instance, providing more seating options in public places, or offering straws for drinking beverages.
The grant to the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota is one of several million dollars' worth of grants awarded annually by the Otto Bremer Foundation in Bremer Bank communities.
"Building community through partnerships is what it's about for us. Our bank and clients help to generate the revenue that is ultimately distributed by our owner, the Otto Bremer Foundation," said Mary Ann Doyle, president of Bremer Bank in Willmar. "This grant is particularly gratifying because it will build needed services in Willmar and multiple Bremer communities."