We are endlessly grateful to our volunteers for giving their time to better the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Our volunteers are truly the heart of the Alzheimer’s Association here in North Carolina.
In honor of National Volunteer Week 2021, we’ll be spotlighting a different volunteer from our Chapter each day. Today we are featuring…
REV. SEKINAH HAMLIN
What brought you to volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a couple of years ago. She is a retired educator. Both of our parents believed in education; thus, my brother and I looked to learn all we could about Alzheimer’s and how to care for her well. We listened to podcasts, read articles and books, and went to conferences, but perhaps the most transformative experience was talking to individuals and families that have cared for loved one(s) with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My daughter and son’s Pre-K/Kindergarten teacher cared for a parent with Alzheimer’s. Though her mother had already passed, she was/is an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and every year led the school and her class in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. We took part in donating money to the Walk but never got to take part due to schedule conflicts. However, it made us aware of the Alzheimer’s Association.
My brother and I then looked to the Alzheimer’s Association, Western Carolina Chapter for guidance. We came in and met with someone who was very patient with our questions. She gave us lots of information including the contact information of attorneys and neurologists who had ties to the Association. These resources were invaluable. We got word of an Alzheimer’s Association conference at Friendship Baptist Church and I represented my family in participating, learning, and bringing back information. Naturally, I looked for the Association table so that I could find out what other services were available AND the ways our family could be involved in helping other families.
What volunteer role(s) do you have with the Association?
I am new to volunteering with the Association and/or with efforts to end Alzheimer’s and provide care to families. However, I come from a family that believes in service and my brother and I have volunteered with many organizations since we were children. Currently, I work with the advocacy efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association. It was a natural fit for me as I have been involved professionally in faith-based advocacy for economic justice on both the national level and in several state legislatures. In addition, I am a Christian and a pastor. I believe that the experiences we have, particularly the challenging ones, are opportunities for us to share our testimonies, to provide insight, AND make better the road for others who will travel the same path. My family’s experience with Alzheimer’s is not ours alone. By sharing the family’s experience, we can help those in power learn about the needs of their constituency that have Alzheimer’s and the needs of their caretakers. Further, we can share best and worst practices with other families and encourage on another on our common journey. Finally, we can share stories of those that have already walked where we are going, to guide our way forward and give us hope. Our family experience must be used to help the community.
I have also gotten involved in outreach efforts to the Black community through the ALTER Program which receives funding from the Alzheimer’s Association. I am looking for opportunities to connect folks that may need to be empowered with knowledge and understanding, particularly to make places of worship more welcoming for Alzheimer’s patients and families. [Read how the Association is strengthening diversity and inclusion.]
What do you enjoy most about your volunteer role?
I enjoy the community of patients and other families the most. God did not make us to be isolated, but rather to share and be accountable to one another. However, American culture often re-programs us to only think about our immediate household both legislatively and culturally. This flawed logic leads people to take on stigma because of the challenges they face, and disconnect from others when their burdens get too heavy to carry alone for fear of being seen as a failure. Sure, I’ve heard it said, ‘well we are supposed to take our burdens to the Lord’, and yes that is true. But how does the Lord work? In my Christian faith, the example given of the church community is one where we bear each other’s burdens, celebrate with each other, and recognize that through shared suffering and challenge we find the hope of Christ in tangible ways.
Thus, meeting families of all different socio-economic, ethnic, racial, etc. backgrounds who share the experience with Alzheimer’s IS community and life giving for me. It let me and my family know that we are not alone. God has placed angels here on earth to share the unconditional love and understanding of the Creator with us and we with them. We are community together.
What piece of your role do you feel makes the biggest impact?
Telling our stories makes the most impact. In all my years meeting with legislators to advocate against economic debt traps, food insecurity, etc., it has always been the lived experience of people on the ground that have caused them to re-think their position and embrace a more inclusive understanding on various issues. Of course, the statistics are good, but the stories of families have the biggest impact.
The stories of families also have the biggest impact with others in the community. Sharing our stories in safe spaces allows us to connect to each other at the basic human level. God has made all and put a bit of Godself in everyone. That piece of the Divine does not go away when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or has dementia. Thus, all should be treated with dignity and respect. Sharing our stories also acknowledges the personhood of our loved ones and the unconditional love we have for them. It allows them to be seen holistically in all stages of life.
If someone were considering volunteering with the Association, what would you say to them?
Come on! We would love to welcome you in this community. Do not let time be a hindrance in making your decision. THIS community truly understands that life is hectic. We welcome you no matter how you enter this space. Just know that there are loving places waiting just for you and your family. We are here.