ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Alzheimer’s affects approximately 5.7 million Americans nationwide -- but that is just the figure for those living with Alzheimer's. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 16.1 million people provide unpaid care for those with the disease or other forms of dementia. Every 65 seconds, another person is diagnosed.
But sorority Sigma Kappa, and its members, including U-M junior Elizabeth Fernandez, are motivated to volunteer and raise awareness about the disease, not to mention funds, for Alzheimer’s research.
Fernandez, who goes by Liz, has led her sorority in raising awareness, has been a Chair the Walk to End Alzheimer's planning committee and has also raised thousands of dollars in funds for the Alzheimer's Association.
“Thanks to Liz's efforts, team Sigma Kappa is our Ann Arbor Walk's top fundraising team, having raised about $30,000. Liz has raised over $15,000, making her the top Sigma Kappa in the country, currently,” said Samantha West, communications director of the Alzheimer's Association, Michigan Great Lakes Chapter. “The dollars that Liz has helped to raise go toward providing care and support services in Washtenaw County, including support groups, free education programs, care consultations and our toll-free 24/7 helpline. The funds raised also help directly fund Alzheimer's research, both locally at the University of Michigan as well as around the nation.”
On top of raising money with her sorority sisters, Fernandez volunteers countless hours of her time aiding seniors in the community by visiting assisted living facilities and by helping prepare meals for the St. Joseph Hospital's Joe's Memory Arts Cafe.
With the number of those who may develop Alzheimer's predicted to more than double within with next 30 years, there is an increasing need for people to volunteer their time, increase awareness and to show compassion for those in their community with the disease.
We reached out to Fernandez, who is majoring in public health, to ask her why volunteering with seniors and her sorority, as well as her work with the Walk to End Alzheimer's is so important.
A4: Could you tell me more about your motivations for getting involved in the Walk to End Alzheimer's and why you volunteer with seniors?
Fernandez: “I became involved in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s through my sorority, Sigma Kappa. The Alzheimer’s Association is our main philanthropy, and my freshman year of college we attended the Ann Arbor Walk to End together.”
“Freshman year was not easy. It was a time of confusion, anxiety and loneliness -- but being a part of something bigger gave me a sense of hope. Being a part of a larger organization made me feel a part of something, it made me feel useful. It made me feel happy. I’ve always gained pleasure from volunteering and helping others and the Walk to End was no different. The mission to End Alzheimer's kept me looking forward, excited to do better.”
“I volunteer with seniors because of how much my grandparents have affected me. They are so dear to my heart, and I have always enjoyed interacting with seniors. Their stories help inform and teach us. Seniors have already given so much to this world and I feel it is the youth’s responsibility to take care of them.”
“I also volunteer with seniors because I know the burden that disease can have on families. As much as we may love our family, we need breaks too -- and that’s okay. I want to be there for the caregivers to rest, recover, and recharge. I want to be able to do my part, no matter how small, for the people that dedicate their time day in and day out.”
A4: What goals or hopes do you have in the future by raising money and awareness?
Fernandez: “In the future, I hope young people are more invested in fundraising and raising awareness. This issue profoundly impacts us -- our grandparents, our friends, our family, or perhaps even us and our children. We can be the generation that puts an end to this vicious disease. I hope that in the future this is no longer a reactive issue- that we don’t have to look back and wish we had done something sooner. The involvement of young people is essential to sustain research and push policy forward.”
“I hope that more children grow up with their grandparents. I hope that more mothers can go to bed at night worry-free. I hope I can look at my friends and laugh in 70 years the same way I do now. To achieve all of this, we need the involvement and dedication of young people.”
November is National Family Caregiver month. If you are interested in volunteering with the Alzheimer's Association, donating, or would like to find a local support group, check out the Alzheimer's Association Get Involved page.
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