A fifth-generation Tuolumne County resident and his wife have developed a new Sonora Area Foundation fund to aid in social awareness and community support for local residents who struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Ron Hamilton, 52, now a principal administrator at Gold Rush Charter School in Sonora, said he sustained several concussions while in high school and had brain surgery in 1999 for chiari malformation, which is when brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.
Since then, Hamilton’s hands have often trembled beyond his control, his memory and balance have been off, and he often stammers or stutters. Hamilton always attributed the problems to surgery, but in the summer of 2016, he received his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis.
“I still have the ability to speak and, even with my speaking challenges, I feel I can go out into the community and be a positive voice for the Parkinson’s community to raise awareness and reach out to people with Parkinson’s that don’t know that there are things available in the community for them.”
The Peaceful Journey Fund, also known as the Ron and Krishna Hamilton Parkinson’s Foundation, was initially been slated for development in 2020, Hamilton said, but the coincidental intervention of a Sonora High School student’s senior project allowed for the early release of the foundation.
Hailey Gragg, 18, who knew Hamilton through his participation in Tuolumne County’s 4-H program, from which he retired in 2017, told him about her plans to donate the proceeds from a fundraising dinner to a national Parkinson’s Disease program.
“Of course we were humbled beyond words,” he said, but when he told her about his upcoming plans to start a local foundation, they decided to team up and raise the funds for The Peaceful Journey Fund.
More than $12,000 dollars was raised at the late March event, he said, far above the $5,000 threshold needed to set up the foundation fund.
“Our goal is that this will go on forever,” he said, with fundraisers annually in the month of April to commemorate Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Hamilton said his wife, Krishna, 49, has been a bastion of support and reinforcement for his disease and has been instrumental in the foundation of the fund.
Ron Hamilton learned after his brain surgery that he had Parkinson’s Disease for almost 13 years before his diagnosis. Even with the proper medication now, he said, he still can appear to have what is known as “stone face,” or the appearance of being emotionless when he isn’t, and crippling night terrors.
“I think the biggest thing to understand about (the) disease is that it affects different people differently and, for different people, it can affect them differently every day,” he said.
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. It’s often associated with symptoms such as tremors, stiffness and loss of balance.
The impetus for the development of the foundation, he said, was the realization that the Parkinson’s Disease community has been largely out of sight, out of mind for the general public.
“In Tuolumne County, there is not a huge understanding of Parkinson’s Disease. There is an estimated three hundred people with Parkinson’s Disease in Tuolumne County,” he said, citing a 2014 article from Friends and Neighbors magazine.
The goal of the foundation is not only to provide financial support, he said, but also to generate awareness about the disease from both those who have it and the community at large.
“It gets quite expensive, all these medications and all these appointments. It adds up quite quickly,” he said.
Parkinson’s patients or their caretakers, known as “Parkinson’s partners,” can fill out an application for assistance through the Sonora Area Foundation, and a committee will review the application to provide funds for a wheelchair, a walker or even pay for a hotel room for a far away doctor’s appointment.
During the fundraising dinner for the foundation, Ron Hamilton said he learned that many people with Parkinson’s disease were not aware of therapeutic exercises such as swimming, or that a high-protein diet can inhibit the effectiveness of certain medications.
Ron Hamilton said support groups dedicated to Parkinson’s Disease will be advertised throughout the community as a way for those with the disease to share their experiences and learn from others.
The Sonora Parkinson’s Group meets from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the second Monday of each month in the multipurpose room at Sonora Hills of Greenley Road.
In San Andreas, the Movers and Shakers Group meets from 9:45 a.m. to noon on the first Tuesday of the month at the San Andreas Central Library, 1299 Gold Hunter Road.
“We live in such a phenomenal community that I can have the opportunity to give back to a community that has given my family so much,” he said. “I am not upset that I have Parkinson’s Disease. I feel instead God has allowed me to use it to the benefit in my life to reach out and bless people in my community and bring awareness to a disease that not many people know too much about.”
Ron Hamilton said anybody interested in fundraising efforts, learning more about the fund, or volunteering their time can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (209) 928-1815.