Cassandra Friedman Walks to Inspire Hope and Raise Awareness for Alzheimer’s

Cassandra Friedman’s children have jokingly asked their mother to change her name.

After all, they don’t want to be associated with a woman who hangs around coffee shops playing music in hopes of raising money for Alzheimer’s.

“I’m not shy, I’ll do anything to spark an interest in donating,” Friedman, 56, says. “It wouldn’t be unusual to see me standing outside Starbucks or Dominick’s with a ukulele.”

Friedman learned how to play the four-string baritone ukulele from Jo Colver, her former PE teacher at Niles East High School. But Colver was more than just an educator, she was a role model.

“Forty-one years ago, when this teacher straightened me out and nurtured me and was a mother figure, I knew then that I was going to pay it forward,” Friedman says.

Every summer, Friedman participates in the Chicago Memory Walk sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, to honor Colver’s mother, Irene Morris, who died in 2004.

Friedman, despite her severe arthritis, continues to walk dozens of miles each year. At age 51, she walked 51 miles. This summer she expects to cover about 60 miles over the course of three walks held across the state.

Though she remains one of the top individual fundraisers, her goal is not to solicit donations. Instead, she strives to raise awareness of the disease that affects 5.3 million Americans, and most of all, to inspire hope.

After college, Friedman became a high school teacher. She then earned a Ph.D., became a licensed clinical professional counselor and has worked as a psychotherapist for the past 30 years.

Her philosophy is simple: Help yourself by helping others.

“Put [your] problem aside for part of the day and help someone else. It’s a very cathartic feeling. You can put your situation in better perspective by not constantly obsessing.”
She applies this way of thinking to her own life. And hopefully, the cycle of giving will continue, she explains.

With so much positive energy, it’s easy to imagine that Friedman raises about $6,000 for the annual walk, which has more than 5,000 participants.

“She doesn’t want any credit,” says Mollie Shapiro, manager of intermediate giving at the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Illinois Chapter. “She’s very magnetic and people are instantly drawn to her. Her enthusiasm is contagious.”

Want to donate to the Memory Walk? Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.