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 2023, we’ll be spotlighting a different volunteer from our Chapter each day. Today we are featuring…
What brought you to volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
Like most people who get involved with a cause, I joined the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia because of a personal connection. Shortly after I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005, my father was (eventually) diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). I say “eventually,” as he was dismissed by doctors, misdiagnosed, and even had an unnecessary brain surgery that almost took his life before we received this diagnosis. Not much was known about FTD at that time, so I chose to pretend that nothing was wrong; this was relatively easy to do, as I was living in out West and didn’t see my family more than a couple of times a year.
But with each visit back to North Carolina, it became harder and harder to ignore the changes in his demeanor, physical capabilities, and appearance, so in 2010, I sought out a support group to help me better understand and cope with this devastating and cruel disease. This led me to the Alzheimer’s Association – Colorado Chapter, and as soon as I learned about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, I signed up! After participating in the Walk in Colorado for several years, I wasted no time in finding a Walk to End Alzheimer’s near my hometown of Greenville, NC. I was the team captain for the FTD Fighters in the 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s – New Bern, and with the help of my sister, Marci, we raised more than $2,500. Those efforts, combined with the compelling story of my father’s struggles, opened the door to a plethora of advocacy opportunities!
What volunteer role(s) do you have with the Association?
After participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s shortly after my return to Eastern North Carolina, I joined the 2021 Walk Planning Committee for New Bern, which I hope to be a part of again this year.
In May of 2022, I participated in my first Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C., which was life-changing. After attending this year’s AIM Advocacy Forum, I was asked to be the Ambassador/Lead Advocate for the 1st Congressional District of North Carolina!
Alzheimer’s Ambassadors perform a number of grassroots advocacy activities at the federal level that include periodic in-district meetings with elected officials, attendance at the annual Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., written and online communication with elected officials and submission of letters to the editors of local papers.
What do you enjoy most about your volunteer role?
I most enjoy making connections with people who have been affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia in one way or another. As a people person, I find interactions with others to be incredibly fulfilling, especially since COVID. But beyond that, speaking with others who have experienced or are experiencing something similar to what we went through with my dad has provided a kind of support that can’t be found by speaking with just anyone. According to the 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, “more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and over 11.5 million provide their unpaid care.” That is A LOT of people, but until I made connections through the Alzheimer’s Association, I felt very much alone. The awesome thing about volunteering is that we set out to help others, but in doing so, we help ourselves, too. Feeling less alone has given me strength on the days I had none, and in turn, I have been able to offer that same support to others.
What piece of your role do you feel makes the biggest impact?
As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, which is unacceptable to me. By sharing my dad’s story with members of Congress and their staff, other advocates, community members, and my students, I have made an impact. A person’s story puts a face with the facts and statistics. When we show photos of our loved ones and describe the challenges that come with caring for someone with a neurocognitive disorder, we make it harder to ignore.
I am grateful for every chance that I get to share my dad’s story, as it is a story that far too many people can relate to, and I look forward to the day when that is no longer the case. But in the meantime, I want to do all I can to spare others from the same struggles that my dad and my family faced as a result of his disease. The knowledge that I gained from helping to care for my dad in the last few years of his life did not die with him, as I am paying it forward. The other day, my mom looked at me and said, “Your dad’s life and legacy get to mean something through you,” which is a powerful way to think about the impact of something as simple as a story.
If someone were considering volunteering with the Association, what would you say to them?
Start small. Find a Walk to End Alzheimer’s near you and sign up! While fundraising may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found that this process helped me to see just how many people have connections to this cause and are willing to help. It may be the push that you need to become further involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. Utilize the Alzheimer’s Association’s website for your region of North Carolina and see what events are taking place. If your area has limited opportunities to get involved, then reach out to the Association and ask them what can be done to change that.
The Law of Concentration states that “whatever you dwell upon grows and increases in your life,” and volunteering has allowed me to turn my pain into progress, which ultimately has given me a sense of purpose. It can do the same for you, too!
THANK YOU, KATE
Volunteers truly help move our mission forward. Interested in becoming a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association in NC?
Visit alz.org/volunteer or call 800-272-3900.