Baltimore residents Emily and John “JR” Paterakis Jr. love their city and they love to dance, especially when it’s for an important cause.
These passions ignite at the annual Memory Ball Dancing Stars, a fundraising event hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Maryland Chapter. At the black-tie affair, prominent community members perform a choreographed dance before a panel of judges. The dancers who earn the most audience “votes” in the form of dollars donated win the coveted “Mirror Ball” trophy.
In 2015, Emily and JR personally raised more than $120,000 for the Association and were first runner-up in the “You Are Our Star” portion of the competition. They hit all of their marks with grace — an unsurprising achievement for the couple, who met at a dance at Maryland’s Towson University in 1976 and married five years later. “We’ve been dancing together ever since,” says Emily.
It wasn’t just a love of dancing that inspired the pair to compete in the Memory Ball. JR’s cousin and business partner, Nicholas “Nick” Tsakalos, passed from Lewy body dementia in 2015. His aunt, and Emily’s godmother, Despo “Dee” Sfakianos, lost an eight-year battle with dementia in 2017.
JR and Emily witnessed the painful progression of dementia in their loved ones. “Seeing it up close was devastating,” JR says. Shaken by the experience, JR and Emily wanted to change the narrative for individuals living with dementia and their families. JR joined the Alzheimer’s Association as a board member to be more actively involved in shaping a future in which Alzheimer’s is a forgotten disease.
“We want to help others facing dementia have an improved quality of life so they can leave a legacy of love behind,” says Emily. “We want them to know they will not be forgotten.”
For Emily and JR, the key to having an impact is doing what you love for the people and community you love. “The Alzheimer’s Association is a philanthropic priority for us because dementia affects too many families,” says JR. “We want to be a part of the solution — that’s the bottom line.”
Learn more about the Aspire Society and ways you can get involved.