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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Fresno Surgical Technology student leads the charge on campus for Alzheimer’s

July 22, 2015

SJVC Fresno Alzheimers fundraiserZaven Ohanian and his mom, Ashkhen, drove up to SJVC’s Fresno campus in a bright purple and white Honda Accord that was wrapped tightly in paper covered with over 800 signatures. Zaven, a Surgical Technology student, is volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association to raise awareness for “Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.”

Clawson Honda of Fresno loaned the Accord as a fundraising tool and pledged to contribute $1.00 for each signature on the car. This Alzheimer’s Association campaign was just a few days from completion when Zaven thought he might be able to get signatures from fellow students, staff and faculty at the campus.

After working out the logistics with Zaven, Jerry Franksen – SJVC Fresno’s Dean of Student Services – made it happen. On June 23rd, Zaven and Ashkhen parked the car – the color purple is the forget-me-not color for Alzheimer’s – near the school’s main patio during morning break. Flyers had been distributed about the event and an announcement made on the PA system. Students poured from classrooms and headed to the site where Zaven had also set up a table with Alzheimer’s education and awareness material.

In just a little over an hour, more than one hundred new signatures adorned the car (a list of corresponding names and e-mail addresses verified the count).

“I was surprised how many people actually came out and supported us,” says Zaven. “There was a great vibe there, and a really good feeling.” For Zaven it was personal. His dad, Greg, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago when he was only 55.

Often family and friends are helpless to do much of anything when a loved one is deep within the ever-narrowing world of Alzheimer’s. Although Zaven shares the frustration, he knew he had to do something to push back against the disease that was slowly dissolving his dad’s memory and their shared lives.

“There’s no sense worrying about things you can’t change,” says Zaven. “You just do what you can.”

What Zaven can do is raise funds and awareness about this disease that affects about 5.3 million Americans. One out of eight older adults has Alzheimer’s disease, the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. Donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association through Zaven’s website.

“Students understand why it is very important to get involved in these kinds of things,” says Jerry Franksen. “We have been very open about providing students with opportunities to support the community and be good citizens.”

Information and awareness about this disease are especially important, as so many families are affected.

Zaven spent some time talking with students who had parents or grandparents struggling with the disease’s crippling impact. “There isn’t anything I can do to help my dad,” says Zaven. “I try to be understanding and there for him when he needs me. But the thing I can do is fundraising for research and awareness.”

Students benefit in another way when they participate in these kinds of events. “A lot of these organizations can be directly in the field that our students are going into,” says Jerry. “It is an opportunity to bring what they are learning about into a very real situation, and to be more connected.”

Zaven and Mr. Franksen are already talking about SJVC support for a future Alzheimer’s event.