Friday, November 1, 2013

Bullying Prevention Awareness Month: How Student Involvement May Be the Key

In honor of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Jessica Burke, event and volunteer coordinator at the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, discusses the importance of awareness and prevention of bullying. 

I feel compelled to reach out to our AFA Teens about an issue that impacts nearly 30 percent of adolescents in the United States: bullying. As you may know, Bullying Prevention Awareness Month just ended, in October, but this is a conversation that should continue year-round.

Bullying continues to be a widespread problem during school hours; after school hours at clubs, ball fields, community centers and even on one’s own residential block; and on the Internet. Whether a student is the victim of bullying, or is the bully, the act of bullying can have a profound impact. Effects include depression, anxiety, and increased substance use.

The good news is that research shows active engagement in extracurricular activities and community activism helps reduce one’s exposure to environments where bullying occurs. This involvement also develops leadership skills in students who are more likely to safely intervene if they witness the mistreatment of others.

Participation in an activity like AFA Teens aligns with this research. We hope that this encourages you to get involved even more and to spread the word about AFA Teens so that your friends, peers and classmates will also join our family. AFA also encourages you to talk with your family, friends and educators about this important topic so that, together, we can increase awareness and prevention of bullying.

For information on bullying signs, prevention and reporting, please visit

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Making a Difference One Person At a Time

In this blog post, Jessica Burke, event and volunteer coordinator at the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, reflects on the rewards of working with AFA and how one family caregiver showed her how important her role really is. 

I celebrated my three-month anniversary as the events and volunteer coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) on August 15, 2013. On my subway ride home to Brooklyn, N.Y., that night, I found myself reflecting on my new position and what it means to be part of the AFA family.

In the summer of 2001, I began working with college students who reside in campus housing. I worked my way over the years through the ranks, from an undergraduate resident assistant, to a graduate assistant and then to the professional position of resident director. What I most enjoyed about working with college students was the ability to impact their college experience and watch them grow from freshmen to accomplished student leaders on their graduation day.   

When I accepted my position at AFA – a role that includes overseeing AFA Teens and AFA on Campus, I was happy that I would be able to continue the student interaction that I had grown to appreciate. But, with my responsibilities also involving contact with individuals with dementia, adult caregivers and other clients, I underestimated the impact that working with a different population would have on me. In my first month of employment, AFA hosted its annual conference for family caregivers and healthcare professionals. From the time that I began registering family members to attend the conference, I knew that this would be different.  

One woman who I will always remember shared with me that she has been the sole caregiver for her husband of more than 30 years. Her call to register for the conference turned into a 15-minute conversation about their relationship, the challenges she faces on a daily basis, and even some advice that she had for me as a newlywed. She thanked me profusely for the support AFA has given her over the years. And, when we hung up, the tears in my eyes were proof that this job was going to be an experience I will never forget.

What I suspect is that, if you are reading this, you are also someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of people impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. You may not know where to start, but that is where I come in. I want to help you feel the same sense of meaning that I felt that day, and continue to feel each time I interact with a caregiver or individual with Alzheimer’s disease.

Whether you choose to start a chapter of AFA Teens or AFA on Campus, volunteer at a local senior center or long-term care residence, host an educational or awareness program, or participate in one of many online activities available to visitors to AFA Teens and AFA on Campus – I’ll be here to guide you.

If you’re ready to join the AFA family and participate in our cause, contact me at 866-232-8484 or I look forward to working together this coming academic year!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rallying Around Alzheimer's Awareness

In this blog post, Victoria Aramini, president of the AFA on Campus chapter at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, relays how college students pulled together to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease—and found out that we’re all in this together.

If students and faculty at the College of the Holy Cross were not aware of Alzheimer’s disease before, they are now!

This past November, 20 students and I worked to execute the College of the Holy Cross’s first annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Day. This day marked the inaugural event held by the college’s AFA on Campus chapter, which I started a chapter at Holy Cross this fall.   AFA on Campus collaborated with three different groups on campus: SHAPE (Student Health Awareness Peer Educators), which promotes responsible decisions regarding health; COPE (Counseling Outreach Peer Educators), which strives to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues; and SPUD (Student Programs for Urban Development), whose mission is to improve social conditions of individuals in our surrounding area of Worcester, MA.

This project was extremely important to me. In August, I lost my grandmother (or Nonna, as we call her in Italian). Nonna had Alzheimer’s disease for years, and I cannot even begin to describe the pain I felt as the disease took over her body. I watched my mom and grandfather, my nonna’s primary caregivers, take care of her day in and day out. It made me angry that she appeared so helpless. I was mad Nonna forgot who I was. I was upset that the disease existed.

All of these feelings made me want to do something—and that’s how the first Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at Holy Cross came about.

Our campus chapter met several times prior to the actual day of the event. At our meetings, we brainstormed goals and tactics, and shared our personal stories related to Alzheimer’s disease with each other. We all realized that each of us was not the only one who had a loved one with the disease. It helped us connect with each other, motivate each other and successfully act together to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

We advertised the event with flyers, a mass e-mail that was sent out to the student body, and coffee sleeves that were labeled with stickers with information about the event.

On the actual day of the event, we hung balloons in our main campus center with facts about Alzheimer’s disease hanging from the bottom of the strings. For six hours, we staffed a table in the campus center, speaking to students and faculty and handing out educational materials. The information, which was provided by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), explained the disease, caregiving techniques and ways to promote a healthy brain lifestyle. We also had a copy of the “STOP Alzheimer’s” petition for students to read over and sign. In total, we collected more than 300 signatures!

The day was surely a success; the overall turnout was great, but the relationships we made were even better. When people who had a personal connection with the disease came by to sign the petition, they pulled either me or a member of the team aside and shared their experiences. People wanted to talk about how horrible the disease is and how their own lives had been affected by it. We received a lot of positive feedback after the event was over, including many people who congratulated our team for bringing a rarely-discussed topic to the front burner.

This is definitely a project that the Holy Cross community wishes to be a part of in the future, and hopefully that means the Alzheimer’s Awareness Day will be a tradition at Holy Cross!