An interview with Deb Pollack, Founder of Drive Toward a Cure on August 2, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Deb Pollack, publicist for global luxury brand Singer Vehicle Design, has served the car community since the late ‘80s. Her automotive volunteer efforts including judging at various national and regional Concours events. A philanthropist at heart, since 2008 she’s teamed Cars and Camaraderie™ to support the challenges of Parkinson’s disease – most recently as founder of Drive Toward a Cure® (www.drivetowardacure.org), a nationally-recognized 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to finding a cure.
Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.
I had lost my mom to the complications of Parkinson’s disease in 2006 and was all too aware of the challenges she faced on a daily basis – and couldn’t bear to see others facing the same difficulties.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
It wasn’t until 2016, marking what would have been her 90th birthday and a decade since her passing that I realized we needed to find the best way to honor her and her spirit – and that would include helping others along the way.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
As an executive within the automotive community for many years, I realized there was an untapped audience within the car culture – one that was already involved in cars and camaraderie™ and could be a visual catalyst in helping us build awareness and raise funds.
And once we began our Foundation, we also realized the unfortunate fact/opportunity that so many personally know someone affected by this disease and could easily relate, allowing them a highly visible outlet to partake and help in an interactive way – one that that could gain attention easily and seed our mission. Our multi-day programs, regional events and one-day drives nationwide are a means to increase participation on every demographic level and have fostered an initiative that is growing annually.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working with you?
From a fundraising perspective, our programs range from $20 entry fees, to up to several thousand for all-inclusive multi-day events – and all offer opportunities to set their own financial goal with a specific directive the funds will help.
As an example, dollars raised from our open-touring laps day at a racetrack with a group in KY and Nashville were able to provide scholarships to patients that needed financial assistance to partake in fitness and nutritional programs, as well as seed a fellowship for 5th year resident doctors partaking in mobility education for Parkinson’s patients. Nearly all dollars raised in our regional events are provided to grass roots and local area Parkinson’s facilities to further support patient care initiatives.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
In 2018, following the horrific California fires in Paradise, (Northern California) we immediately created a California Wildfire Grant Fund, for patients that lost their homes and other materials to apply to us to help – the area was a very low-income community and the devastation went on for nearly two months – spurring residual fires and eventually named a national disaster…we didn’t have a ton of money to give, but as an example we were able to help one applicant by providing $3K for a downpayment on a new trailer to live in (obviously supporting our initiative toward ‘patient care’)– later, knowing there are unfortunately catastrophic situations everywhere beyond California (including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.) we renamed our program to become a ‘Special Assistance Fund’ and have since helped several patient applicants in Louisiana, KY, North Carolina and more.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
While growth is always important, I want to maintain the intimacy that allows us to know so many of the folks we are personally supporting and maintain the ability to create more directed programs that are not just supporting the individuals but bringing them into their own community of support.
As an example, during the pandemic, we created an initiative specifically for the local Arizona-area Hispanic community challenged by Parkinson’s — in the form of a Hispanic choir within the Muhammad Ali Foundation of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix – this allowed us to help in three key areas for participants: minimizing isolation during the pandemic; helping create better self-esteem; and most important, exercising their vocal cords.
What events do you participate in?
We predominantly create our own events within and for the car community – and all as fundraising opportunities – from creating one-day drives, BBQs, poker runs and visits to car museums and private car collections to multi-day driving events that incorporate great driving roads and activities like wine tasting and on-track experiences – all promote our version of ‘cars and camaraderie’ enabling guests to get to know one another and return for other programs already having made like-minded friends supporting our cause. We additionally do virtual events including wine tastings and educational seminars with well-known automotive journalists and motorsports drivers.
And this summer, we’ve opened our doors to a more youthful demographic, with an alignment to university students participating in Formula SAE (they are global engineering-based student groups that work as teams to build a race car and compete on a national basis) – we have nearly 20 university teams aligning with us to share our logo on their race cars, and become advocates for our cause – we also included them in their own category for our summer driving program that will allow them to win their own set of prizes as incentive for participation.
We also had the opportunity this year to grow our ‘Special Assistance’ grant fund through two specific online auctions with renowned automotive site ‘Bring a Trailer’ which raised our awareness throughout the car culture on a global basis and took in $40K that will seed future needs.
Broadcast interviews and our goal was to promote our 75 Days of Summer program:
How does this also assist the caregivers?
Caregivers are a necessary part of the Parkinson’s community – and guide so many elements of patient care – AND require their own form of care – especially when it comes to self-care and emotional support – so with funds we raised in the Pacific Northwest, together with OHSU (the Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence in Oregon)we created a ‘Caregiver Academy’ as a resource to help local caregivers with emotional, nutritional and educational support.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
They must care. That is critical. You have to be authentic. Awareness matters the most. Also, everyone has a different level of PD is different. You also share your knowledge.
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson community, what would it be?
My mom would always say ‘Imagine the possibilities’
We’re all in this together, whether patient or advocate, and with a bit of vision and the positivity of possibility we can all help make others’ challenges easier. When seeking donations, we often share a hashtag #helpushelpothers – because we are all in this together.