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 jburke@alzfdn.org. I look forward to working together this coming academic year!


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