I don’t have Alzheimer’s, and I’m not a caregiver for someone who does. I have no family members suffering from Alzheimer’s. In fact, my family has no history of Alzheimer’s disease.
My name is Wes, I’m 36 years old, and the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice for more than 10 years.
It’s true; I’m not your “typical” advocate. But the truth is that this disease has made a lasting impression on me and in my life.
While working as a journalist in 2004, I was asked to write a story about Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know much about the disease. After completing some initial research, I felt the best way to tell the story was to interview people who were suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and care partners.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the interviews were heart-wrenching. At times, I cried. A grandmother was forgetting her granddaughter; a father his daughter. These wonderful and kind people were forgetting their most cherished memories and everything they once were as each day went by. The toll on their caregivers, I learned, was immense too.
Since then, the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice. Currently, I’m the marketing chair for the Miami Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and no matter where I’ve lived (Lafayette, St. Louis, Memphis and Miami), I’ve raised funds and have walked to end Alzheimer’s.
This year I had the opportunity to fly before I Walk. On July 30, as the 18th recipient of the JetBlue “Flying It Forward” ticket, I flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago to visit the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. My goal was to meet the leaders who are fighting this disease and take their best practices back to the Southeast Florida chapter.
I learned about the programs the Association offers, its research efforts, and Walk to End Alzheimer’s marketing and fundraising tips. I also visited the National Contact Center, where the 24/7 free, helpline is answered. Did you know the National Contact Center handles an average of 3,750 calls a week?! I learned a lot during my visit and I will cherish the trip for the rest of my life.
Here are a few of the things I learned:
- Wear your Walk shirt – Walk to End Alzheimer’s shirts are not just for Walks. Wear them throughout the year, especially in high-traffic areas such as airports, sporting events and shopping malls. People will approach you and ask about your involvement and the cause and may even share their personal stories.
- Memorize the 24/7 Helpline – If someone approaches you with interest in or needs help from the Alzheimer’s Association, offer the 800.272.3900 24/7 Helpline! You can also print business cards with the helpline info on it so you can easily hand it out.
- Tell your story – Storytelling allows you to make a connection with people. Share your story to increase your Walk fundraising and raise awareness of this disease. My personal fundraising spiked when WGN TV featured my trip after I had asked people to share my story through their social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
- Get creative – I have friends who always want me to join Facebook even though I’ve opposed it for years. But then I saw an opportunity: I told them that if I raised $10,000 to end Alzheimer’s, I would join, and many of them have donated!
Just as Alzheimer’s has made a lasting impression on me, I hope to make a lasting impression by continuing to join Walk every year. It’s important to note that JetBlue did not select me for the program that resulted in my visit to the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. Amy, the past recipient of the “Flying It Forward” ticket, chose me because she has two uncles who are suffering from Alzheimer’s.
So when I walk in Miami in November, I’m now Walking for them too.
About the Author: Wes Milligan is a communications advisor at FedEx Express, Latin America & Caribbean Division, where he is responsible for internal and external communications. Wes lives and works in Miami. You can visit his Walk page here.