Twist of Fate Plants Seeds for a Passion

Call it happenstance or serendipity, but Michelle Mills’ journey within the realm of Alzheimer’s disease unknowingly began over ten years ago when she took a position as a caregiver through Home Instead, a company that provides home care services. “I needed to make some extra money as I was between jobs and am the type that will do whatever it takes to make ends meet,” shares Michelle of Kings Mountain, N.C. Michelle’s only stipulation, however, was that she did not work with Alzheimer’s patients. She admits that it was the stigma associated with the disease and her preconceived notion of avoiding it altogether. But as providence would have it, Michelle’s first caregiving assignment was for a sweet woman living with Alzheimer’s. From that point on, Michelle continued to work with a variety of individuals living with Alzheimer’s, and she admits that she learned to love each and everyone one of them. 

Through her experience in caregiving for those impacted by Alzheimer’s, Michelle embraced a path of self discovery and passion for working with the aging population. Subsequently, she became a certified senior advisor and Medicare expert. Michelle shares, “Everything has just kind of snowballed into how I deal with seniors now, over the years, and I walk with them through their journey in the aging process.” Michelle helps these individuals in a kind and respectful manner which reinforces her passion of helping others. 

On a more personal level,  Michelle’s grandfather, Ray Barnes, developed dementia toward the end of his life. “He was the best man I ever knew,” affirms Michelle. “And if you were to ever ask anyone else, they would say the exact same thing.” Ray and his wife lived next door to Michelle’s mother in Kings Mountain. Ray helped everyone in their neighborhood.  He dug a well and connected the five or six homes so everyone could have water — that’s the kind of man he was. 

Ray worked as the greenskeeper at the Kings Mountain Country Club for 40 years. According to Michelle, while her grandfather may have been small in stature, the magnitude of his wisdom was unfathomable. Ray was so respected in the area that they named a golf tournament after him at the country club. Her fondest memory of him is that he never spanked her as Ray always believed his granddaughter could do no wrong.

These evolving connections to Alzheimer’s disease further led Michelle’s involvement with Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln. Employed with Humana at the time, a partner in primary care and presenting sponsor for the Walk, Michelle’s passion for helping those with Alzheimer’s disease was further solidified, and she became a part of the local Walk volunteer planning committee, which is the lifeline for every local Walk.

Most recently, Michelle has encouraged her church, Vestibule A.M.E. Zion in Kings Mountain, to become more involved in educating its members about Alzheimer’s as well as participating in the community’s Walk.“ Our presiding elder’s father passed away from Alzheimer’s several years ago, so he is working with me to get our entire denomination [African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church] on board.” Michelle believes they are making considerable strides in bringing the entire A.M.E. Zion Church together to support Alzheimer’s awareness. She’s recently organized awareness events through her church and this past June, was the host of an Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month podcast for The Star of Zion, the official voice of the A.M.E. Zion Church.

“As an African American, our population is much more impacted by Alzheimer’s than other demographics,” asserts Michelle. “That’s my best argument in recruiting more involvement from our community and from our church.”  In fact, Michelle will be delivering “Purple Sunday” kits over the next few weeks to 21 churches in her district that will educate the populations as well as raise awareness about the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s events taking place in their area.

All of Michelle’s efforts speak directly to the Alzheimer’s Association’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, believing that engaging diverse perspectives is critical to achieving health equity. According to the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, Blacks are about twice as likely, and Hispanic/Latinos are about one and one-half times as likely, to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Through the Association’s diversity, equity and Inclusion efforts, they are partnering with more than 20 national partners and over 300 local organizations, like the A.M.E. Zion Church, to strengthen outreach to every population and provide communities with culturally appropriate resources and support to address the Alzheimer’s crisis.

Still dedicated to the Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s efforts as well, Michelle serves as the Walk team captain for M Mills Walkers. Her very first team included about six members and most recently the team has about ten. Michelle notes that their fundraising efforts have been successful throughout the pandemic, even raising more money with fewer team members. Everyone is looking forward to participating in person at the upcoming Walk that will be held on October 8. Michelle’s team believes the best avenue to fundraise is asking their friends and family to donate to the cause. They are also active on Facebook and encourage donations through their Facebook page. Michelle’s advice on fundraising is to go to your family members and those you know best. Leverage those relationships and ask them to give, no amount is too small in helping find a cure. 

This Walk Day, like those of the past, Michele is looking forward to the Promise Garden Ceremony. The flowers’ different colors and what they represent, coupled with listening to people sharing their personal stories, are particularly inspirational moments. She looks forward to walking to the Rotary Centennial Pavilion just to see the flowers and capture their beauty on camera. 

Michelle truly believes that educating everyone about Alzheimer’s disease is where our organization can make the biggest impact. Understanding how to recognize warning signs is very important, and secondarily is fundraising to find a cure, or at a minimum, discovering ways in which to slow down the progression of the disease. Michelle petitions everyone to get involved and encourage anyone they know to do so.  She rallies, “Fundraise – give, give, and give some more. Everyone can give a dollar, fifty cents, a quarter – it all adds up. Everyone can contribute to finding a cure- sooner rather than later.”

What started as a seed of reluctance for Michelle has grown into a tree of with many branches — of giving back, raising awareness, and caring for those navigating Alzheimer’s. Proving sometimes life takes us where we never knew we wanted to go, but is just where we are supposed to be.

LIKE MICHELLE, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.

Alamance County9/24/2022
Guilford County10/15/2022
Henderson County9/24/2022
Iredell County9/24/22
Moore County10/1/2022
Mount Airy09/10/2022
New Bern10/22/2022
Unifour (formerly Hickory)10/29/2022
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham)10/15/22

Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping and neither are we.

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