An interview with Mary Jane Berry, Executive Director of Georgetown Area Parkinson’s Support Group: Educate, Exercise, Socialize on October 31, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
My name is Mary Jane Berry, born in 1953, raised in the country with ‘32’ in my high school graduating class. True country life ~ pigs/chickens/turkeys/ducks/goats/cattle/horses…
great life for country girl. I took my horse to college with me! I graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Married in 1979 to Dave, one child – a son named Kent. Worked as an administrative/project management nursing for State of Texas, retired in 2005.
Can you tell me more about your organization?
In 2007, we moved to an over 55 community, Sun City https://www.sctexas.org/Club/Scripts/Home/home.asp I knew something was going on with my husband and had been for almost 5 years ~ could not smell, handwriting bad, didn’t swing arms, back pain and rigid, apathy, slow moving …but the stress of moving caused all these symptoms to worsen and then, the tremor! He was diagnosed in 2007.
He became very depressed. As a nurse, I wanted to learn more, in 2007 I found a support group our town but it was very small (10 to 15 attended) and depressing! I did not go often, and my husband would not attend and that was OK with me because it was depressing.
I was asked in 2011 to be the facilitator of the Parkinson’s Support Group, when I told my husband, he said “no” … later that day, he said “You should do it” …I asked “why” …he said, “because it may help me and others”. So, I became the facilitator. The roster went from 15 in 2007 to now, in 2023 we have 1397 members on our email roster with 100 to 150 attending our meetings.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
I got involved as noted above and yes, I want to bring awareness to our community…and “to help my husband and others”. Our support group GAPS, Georgetown Area Parkinson’s Support Group is here to support all. We are a FREE and positive support group! We strive to help bridge the ‘gaps’ on the journey with Parkinson’s or any Movement Disorder Disease through our mission as a support group! Our GAPS Mission is listed on our website:
Actually, I strive to share HOPE…as noted on my website:
HOPE in the fact, that there are things you can do to maintain your quality of life and live well. Our support group members are all connected to Parkinson’s disease in many different ways ~ as patients, family members, caregivers and talented individuals from within business, medical and civic communities. We are all care partners!
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?
They want to learn more and feel supported…I created these goals that are listed on our website:
- to provide opportunities of support for members and caregivers/care partners to discuss shared experiences and feelings in meetings and classes.
- to share information/education beneficial to all members and caregivers/care partners through meetings, classes, emails, newsletters and symposiums monthly.
- to offer therapeutic options for exercise weekly or monthly in classes for dancing/singing/boxing/exercise and other social activities specific for movement disorders
- to serve the Parkinson’s or Movement Disorder community and their caregivers/care partner daily with the goal to influence and support them to lead fulfilling, independent, and enriched lives with their disease through our social media and open communication
- to provide all of the goals on a FREE basis to members and caregivers/care partners
What type of training and how long are the programs?
- GAPS has monthly “hybrid” meetings on the 4th Thursday of every month at 3pm at the First Baptist Church gym, 1333 W University Ave, Georgetown, TX 78628…except in Nov and December.
- GAPS website has lots of info in it and it is updated frequently: http://www.georgetowntexasparkinsons.com/
- GAPS Caregiver’s Support Group for men and women meets “in-person” on the 2nd Thursday of the month in Georgetown at 2pm in the Education building at First Baptist Church Georgetown, 1333 West University Avenue, Georgetown.
- GAPS encourages exercise! Our website has many resources for exercise: https://www.georgetowntexasparkinsons.com/parkinsons-exercise-opportunities.html both ‘online’ and ‘in-person’! We have FREE classes and some for a fee:
Monday’s at 2pm – Vocal Exercise and Music Therapy
Tuesdays at 1:15pm – Sun City Parkinson’s Fitness
4th Tuesday only at 1:30pm – Art Therapy –
Wednesday’s at 11:30am – Chair Yoga FREE
Wednesday’s at 1pm – Power for Parkinson’s in Georgetown
Thursday’s at 1:15pm – Sun City Parkinson’s Fitness
Thursday’s at 2pm – GAPS Ping Pong at Georgetown Rec Center
These are for a fee and are GREAT classes:
413 Boxing & Senior Fitness classes: https://413.fitness/
Rock Steady Boxing at Grand Living classes: #737-667-4087
What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
I get emails/phone calls asking questions and/or recommendations for a variety of situations ~ constipation to depression to who are the movement specialist docs? So succinctly, GAPS …I provide support.
I get email, phone calls, text messages of ‘thank you’ for the exercise class or the programs…or my newsletter!
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?
to reach more and provide HOPE and SUPPORT as noted in my goals above.
What events do you participate in?
Everything listed above and I write all the emails, newsletters and content for the website and facilitate all the meetings ~ set up speakers, sponsors, exercise leaders for the meetings.
How does this also assist the caregivers?
Yes, it support caregivers as noted above.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
Mary Jane Berry, Executive Director #512-240-4167
GAPS, Georgetown Area Parkinson’s Support Group
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
To keep learning about Parkinson’s and to share with others.
What is your Mantra?
EDUCATE: The support groups and the exercise classes will provide educational tips on how to live your best life with Parkinson’s or a Movement Disorder Disease!
EXERCISE: There are many exercise opportunities, some FREE and some FEE based. Documented to slow progression of PD!
SOCIALIZE: Both the support group meetings and the exercise classes will provide the socialization to develop friendships and comradery to help you live life to the fullest ~ you are NOT alone!
In your opinion what is the key to effective advocacy?
For me, effective advocacy is to educate, support, and serve those with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers to live a life with HOPE…that there are things you can do to maintain your quality of life and live well.
How can we better fundraise to support a cure for Parkinson’s?
Provide Parkinson’s awareness to all.
What other activities do you undertake to help improve and support your daily living Eg exercise and alternative remedies?
My husband does not drive, he is either using the walker or in the wheelchair…so, I exercise with him at our Parkinson’s Exercise classes. My husband was 60 yo at diagnosis and currently, 76 years old.
Why should people who don’t have Parkinson’s care about this?
Because one day, they will be touched by Parkinson’s ~ family member, or friend or they may get the diagnosis.
Have you had any family members or relatives affected by Parkinson’s disease?
Yes, …however, only my husband has Parkinson’s in my family and in his family.
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
Never give up HOPE…NOPE!
Educate, Educate, Educate!
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize!