Jessica Comellas’ earliest memories of her grandmother, Ileana Merino, or “Nana” are of sitting on her lap as a baby while she played the piano.
“As a baby, Nana was the one who raised me every day. She would hold me on her lap while she would teach her students. Once I was able to sit and move my fingers on my own at the age of 3, my own piano lessons began,” Comellas said.
After she passed away May 8 — Mother’s Day — Comellas, 24, realized that hosting a piano-thon would be the perfect way to remember her.
I felt that leading a practice-a-thon to benefit the Alzheimer's Association in her name was the best way for me to continue honoring my promise to her
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To honor Merino and raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, the disease that ailed her in her later years, Comellas hosted a daylong piano-thon from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 14 at the Don Shula Hotel in Miami Lakes.
“In the early stages of her illness, Nana was struggling to give her daily piano lessons. Nana asked me to continue running the studio in her place,” Comellas said. “Although I am not currently teaching, I felt that leading a practice-a-thon to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association in her name was the best way for me to continue honoring my promise to her.”
Comellos, along with the Alzheimer’s Association, hosted a similar event last year and raised $3,000 for the group. This year’s event raised $8,300.
The event was part of The Longest Day campaign, organized by the Alzheimer’s Association, which is usually held on the summer solstice, June 20. Comellas’ team decided to host the event earlier as a Mother’s Day tribute.
“Jessica makes a huge impact in her community, raising funds and awareness for this awful epidemic,” said Riunite Franks, Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Florida chapter events manager. “Her passion and energy is contagious, and we always look forward to working with her and her family.”
Throughout the day, Merino’s previous students played piano continuously in the hotel lobby; the purpose of the event is to both raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and honor the endurance of Alzheimer’s patients.
Comellas’ team plans on participating every year in The Longest Day as a Mother’s Day tribute for her grandmother.
“Having just lost her on Mother’s Day this year, I am definitely motivated to do whatever I can to make her story known and to help others who are facing this unspeakable battle,” Comellas said.