MERCED — Few places around the nation felt the pinch of the United States' economic downturn like Merced County.
While recovery in the area has been slow and steady, tighter budgets haven't diminished Mercedians' generosity in the face of a worthy cause.
Denise Turner has witnessed this firsthand as the leader of GSF Property Management's team in the Walk to End Alzheimer's.
Turner and her cohorts who will participate in the Merced walk at Applegate Park on Oct. 5 have blown the fund-raising competition away, procuring $16,764.50 in donations.
"It's pretty amazing," Turner said. "We started out with a goal of $5,000, and obviously quickly passed it.
"I have a couple people that have really gone out and earned the community's support for this worthy cause, but we've been blown away by the community response.
"We still have two full months left before the walk and are hoping to reach $20,000," Turner said.
According to Alzheimer's Association intern Julie Kelemen, GSF Property Management has raised in excess of $7,000, more than any other team in the 16 Northern California cities participating in the walk this year.
Included in that list are cities with much more significant populations, such as San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Stockton.
"It's pretty impressive that a team from a relatively small community is the No. 1 team by such a large margin," Kelemen said. "I guarantee they're going to stay there, and they aren't done raising money yet."
According to alz.org, Alzheimer's was the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States in 2012 and remains one of the only diseases that cannot be cured, slowed or prevented.
Kelemen said those who participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer's usually have been touched by the disease in some way.
For GSF Property Management, it's just a matter of giving back to the community.
"We have a committee that picks a cause to support every year," Turner said. "The support from the people of Merced has really been amazing. Last year, we were really pleased to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"This year, the generosity has obviously already surpassed that," she said.
Alzheimer's Association special event manager Barbara Tanimoto said she hopes the efforts of Turner and company will spread awareness and help increase the participation in the year's walk.
"This is our second year holding the event, and I'm really excited to have the No. 1 earning team a part of it," Tanimoto said. "It's a 1.5-mile walk around Applegate Park and the bike path, so it's short, but should also be a lot of fun.
"The Alzheimer's Association just gave a $100,000 grant to UC Merced Professor Dr. Masashi Kitazawa to research and hopefully come up with a cure, so the number of ties between the fight against Alzheimer's and Merced is increasing," she said.
To donate money or participate in the event, go to www.alz.org/norcal.
Reporter Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.