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Fighting Parkinson's in Youngstown: Annual chili cook-off benefit at First Presbyterian Church

Sat, Aug 26th 2017 07:00 am
Youngstown First Presbyterian Church will be the site Sunday, Aug. 27, for the second annual Chili Cook-off and Basket Auction in support of the Parkinson's Foundation Moving Day.
The event was first hosted last year by Bob Russell and his wife, Lori, in support of the sixth annual Moving Day Buffalo fundraiser. Proceeds go to support the MD concept of exercise and keeping the body moving to stave off the progression of the debilitating disease.
"The basic concept of Moving Day is 'move it or lose it.' If you stop moving and exercising, the disease will progress faster," Bob Russell said.
A 26-year employee of Lewiston-Porter, where he served as stage manager and audiovisual associate, Russell was the brains behind the sets, sound and light for all the plays and concerts at Lewiston-Porter High School.
The auditorium was his home away from home. It was where he worked closely with the high school students of the stage crew.
"Not many people can say they absolutely loved their job. Even on the worst days, I would come in with a smile on my face ready to work," he said.
At the age of 45, some 13 years ago, Russell was diagnosed with early on-set Parkinson's disease and was forced to take an early disability retirement in 2011.
Since that time, and with the loving support of his wife, Russell has been active in the National Parkinson's Foundation of Western New York. He works to raise awareness of this illusive disease.
Recognized 200 years ago by Dr. James Parkinson, who labeled this disease, Parkinson's slowly eats away at the center of the brain area that controls muscle movement.
For the past two years, Russell has visited with the health and social studies classes at Lewiston-Porter High School, where he developed a presentation designed to inform students of the symptoms of Parkinson's, and how he deals with this degenerative disease. With the help of some hand props and student volunteers, he has demonstrated how the symptoms of Parkinson's disease restrict the mobility, muscle coordination and mental status of the patient.
His Lewiston-Porter experiences were so rewarding and well received by students, Russell said, that he went on to take his show on the road. He contacted the Wilson and Kenmore East school districts and offered them his services. There, teachers passed on some of the positive comments that Lewiston-Porter students had, and how his program touched their lives.
"I was very comfortable back stage and out of the spotlight," Russell said. "The thought of talking to a small group of students terrified me, but something inside me clicked and I developed a plan and a script to follow. I gained a new sense of confidence and became quite comfortable in front of the classroom."
Following exposure in local media, which included a news feature on WKBW-TV Channel 7's "AM Buffalo," Russell began to receive several requests from church groups and local health care facilities to present his program.
"It's a very humbling experience to have organizations approach you with a sincere desire to hear what you have to say, and talk about something as personal as having a disease with no cure - yet," he said.
The First Presbyterian Chili Cook-off and Basket Auction takes place from 4-8:30 p.m. at the church, 100 Church St., Youngstown.
Last year's event featured eight different chilis for competition, more than 100 baskets, and a dozen works of art and sports memorabilia for silent auctions. Proceeds netted more than $2,000 toward the Team Russell contributions (totaling $9,127 last year).
The Russells expect to surpass last year's numbers this year. Their event will feature the works of local photographers and an artist. The premiere item in this year's silent auction is a combination of a signed poster and football from Youngstown's own NFL legend, Daryl Johnston.
The event serves as a forerunner to the Moving Day Buffalo 2017, which starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo.
That event features a 3-mile walk from the stadium to the end of Erie Basin Marina and back. For those unable to participate, there will be in an-stadium movement pavilion where examples of simple exercises, dances, tai chi, boxing and other forms of movements will be offered for visitors.
Those interested in joining in the fight to cure Parkinson's can visit www.movingdaybuffalo.org for more information. Participants are encouraged to donate to Team Russell, and all are welcome to join him to walk for a change. Gates and registration begin at 8 a.m. at Coca-Cola Field.
Russell invited all to join him in his battle to conquer Parkinson's disease.
"I will continue to raise awareness of the devastating effects of this disease until the day I can say, 'I used to have Parkinson's,' " he said.
Terry Duffy contributed to this report.

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