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VOLUNTEER Spotlight

The Alzheimer’s Association counts on 35,000 passionate volunteers nationwide to inspire and make a difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The dedication of these volunteers is highlighted through their significant time commitment to the organization and passion for the cause. The work of volunteers is critical to achieving our vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease. Read the stories of some of our Star Volunteers below.

My Name is Amy Noonan and I am 29 years old. I was born and raised in Decatur, IL where I attended Undergrad at Millikin University. I am currently the District Director of Marketing, Sales, and Engagement for Gardant Management Solutions. We are the largest provider of assisted living in the state of Illinois, and the 14th largest in the country. I love to spend my free time with my husband, Tom, and our fur baby Frank – a 4-year-old Yorkie Poo. When we aren’t at a basketball game (my husband coaches for varsity boys basketball), we are traveling, at a concert, or just spending time with family.

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association?
I have been working directly with seniors and those struggling with dementia and Alzheimer’s for 4 years now. I worked at a Skilled Nursing Facility that specialized in Dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is when I got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association.

What are some of your responsibilities as a Decatur Walk Committee Member?
I have been a part of the Decatur Walk Committee for 4 Years. I am currently serving as the committee co-chair, but in the past I was either on the sub- committees or chair of Sponsorship & Marketing. I worked with our local sponsors and businesses as well as distributed marketing material. I would even do some of the interviews on the news and radio!

Why the Alzheimer’s Association?
Although I may not have a direct association with someone with Alzheimer’s – I feel as though I have over 100 Grandparents with what I do –as I am currently the District Director of Marketing for Gardant Management Solutions. I have created relationships with hundreds of seniors and their families – many who have suffered from this terrible disease.

Why should others volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
It is such a joy bringing so much awareness to this cause, and each year our walk keeps growing and growing. You never know who has been affected by Alzheimer’s. Don’t wait until you do have a personal connection, let’s stop it before it starts! We need more volunteers and financial support so we can fund the research to find a cure.

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Anne McEnroe lives in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago and really enjoys being close to the lake, the park and the zoo. Originally from New Jersey, she moved to the Chicago area when she was nine and considers herself a Chicago native. There are two “Jersey things” she has carried with her through the years – a great love for the New York Yankees and an equally great love for the Jersey shore. A retired chief financial officer, Anne spends her time running, doing yoga, volunteering and traveling. She says, “My fabulous husband Pat and I love taking long walks along the lake front and exploring city neighborhoods. We love Chicago and try to take advantage of all the wonderful things it has to offer.” They have 14 nieces and nephews and almost as many great-nieces and nephews.

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association?
I lost my mom to Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in 1993 just before her 68th birthday and she lived with the disease for six years. It was a difficult road for me and my family, watching the disease progress and seeing her change so drastically right before our eyes. Unfortunately, I know first-hand what it is like to see someone live with Alzheimer’s. Although my mom ultimately did not speak, I think that she always knew me on some level...or at least knew that I was someone who loved her and was there to take care of her. After I retired, I knew that I wanted to devote more of my personal time to doing volunteer work. The Alzheimer’s Association was an organization that I sought out immediately. Having lived through my mom’s illness and oftentimes feeling helpless, I wanted to contribute in some way. Although monetary donations are extremely important, I wanted to take it a step further by devoting my time to specific projects that were important to the organization.

What kind of volunteer work do you do for the Association?
I started volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association in November 2015, so I have not been at it too long! Since that time, I have been verifying (or sometimes gathering) information relative to the 24/7 Helpline community database. This project finished up at the end of June which means we have been at it for about eight months because the database houses so many resources. When my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the ‘90s, finding help was nearly impossible. There just were not as many resources around then as there are today. I really enjoy the verification process because with each phone call or fax, I am grateful that there is one more resource out there that can help someone. The vast database continues to amaze me, and I feel proud to be a tiny part of something that can assist so many in need. This month, I will be starting a new project assisting care consultants by entering intake information.

Why do you choose to volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
Volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association is my own small way of making a contribution and giving back. The Alzheimer’s Association provides so much assistance to so many; my volunteer work is how I support the Association and its many wonderful initiatives. My belief is that the Alzheimer’s Association will be at the forefront of finding a cure for this debilitating disease. In the meantime, I hope my volunteer work helps those affected and their loved ones deal with Alzheimer’s. Also, I volunteer as a tribute to my mom, whom I miss every day.

Why do you think others should volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
The Alzheimer’s Association is a great organization to volunteer for. The volunteer program is extremely organized and all of the people that I have worked with have been extremely kind, helpful and appreciative. Even the people I haven’t worked with, but pass by in the hallway or see in the lunch room say, “Thank you for volunteering!” I find this work very rewarding. Although I’m not saving lives, I do feel that I am making a difference, even if it’s just one phone call at a time. The Alzheimer’s Association does a great job of utilizing volunteers and has a variety of jobs and projects for volunteers to assist with.

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Christiane Shaughnessy, a volunteer in the Illinois Chapter Chicago office, is from Germany and has lived in the USA since 2002. Although she has lived in many cities, Chicago is her favorite and her home. Two of her sisters, four nephews and her mom live in Germany and love visiting here. Christiane guesses “It must be Garrett’s!” She and her husband Patrick are avid motorcyclists whose last trip was across Canada when moved back to Chicago from San Francisco, including side trips through Oregon and Washington, with stops in Whistler, Banff and Calgary. “It was awesome!” she says.

What is your personal connection with Alzheimer’s disease?
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 60. We suspect that his mother also had dementia although she was never officially diagnosed. My father would have turned 80 this July. He passed in January of this year, ironically on the same day that I signed up for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. It was a long time coming, yet it was still a shock. Especially for my mother…she cared for him single-handedly and had only put him in a home last year. It took her this quiet, last phase to come to peace with his disease and their relationship.

Alzheimer’s is an extraordinarily cruel disease – not to take away or minimize other deadly diseases like cancer, heart conditions or AIDS – only that with Alzheimer’s you have to say goodbye twice. And the first one is painfully slow, unavoidable, gradual but finite. And then you hopefully have support (thanks alz.org!) and can learn to live with a sick person who cannot recognize you anymore. And no, it’s not and never is as romantic as in The Notebook – it is more like “Still Alice”.

Hopefully, you have time to give love to your parent or spouse, probably saying sorry for all the yelling and misunderstandings of the prior years… and then you are at peace. And you wait. And then you get the call – and fly home to say goodbye one last time.

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association?
We were planning our wedding and I gave my fiancé some “party favor” options and he groaned and said that he simply hated them all. Patrick suggested donating $10 in each guest’s behalf to our favorite charities instead. So we made name tents that said on the inside “in lieu of a party favor, we would like to donate $10 in your name to one of the following charities…” and then the guests chose between the Mayo Clinic, where Patrick’s parents passed, Close Concerns, Patrick’s sister’s diabetes foundation and – to honor my father, who could not be at our wedding – the Alzheimer’s Association. We put up three cork boards up and found plenty of twenty-dollar-bills among the name tags! Our donation took us straight to the Champions Club of The Walk To End Alzheimer’s where we were roped into sitting on the committee the next two years.

What kind of volunteer work have you done for the association?
We volunteered for The Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2013, and worked on the committee for the walks in 2014 & 2015. In April of 2015, we were table hosts at the San Francisco’s inaugural “Reason To Hope” breakfast. Since we are back in Chicago, I come to the Illinois Chapter office once a week for four hours. They are very flexible (forgiving?) with my starting time, but I always make sure to work for four hours or to finish my project. I’ve been coming here since October and feel as if I’ve been doing this forever – in a good way! Sometimes I work on special “quick” projects like transferring addresses or phone numbers from document A to system B, or stuff envelopes for an upcoming mailing… or write Christmas cards! I wrote 138 last December. Sorry to my family that you didn’t get any from me that year … my wrist was sore.

Mainly though, I am helping the team behind the Helpline to keep their database up to date. Which means that I call each and every nursing home or assisted living facility in Illinois, doctor or medial group, diagnosis center and care center to see if they can care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and if so, to which degree; what services are they offering – respite for the caregiver? Memory care? Are they secured? Do they offer hospice service?  Those are many questions to ask and it takes quite a bit of patience every Tuesday…but then I know it is important to get this right. And I thank everyone who’s been nice to me on the phone!

Why do volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association? Why is it important to you?
Everyone has something she feels especially strong about, right? Stray dogs in Portland, adoptive services for gay couples, soup kitchen for the homeless… There are so many causes you can get behind! Do it. Pick one and give your time, talent and treasure! I learned a while ago that it might be better to give “a lot” to one charity then to give little bits here and there. While I am currently not employed, my “treasure” isn’t much, so I give my talent; my time, my voice, my tenacity. That’s the least I can do for my father. I wasn’t there during his illness (apart from infrequent visits to Germany) but I can carry on in his name here and now.

Why do you think others should volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
Find a cause that is close to your heart. That will carry you through the tedious tasks and the hours when you think “why am I doing this?”

With the Alzheimer’s Association, you have so many opportunities to do good: you have more treasure then time – host a table at the Reason To Hope luncheon! You have more time – start a team for The Walk! You have talents: come into the office! They are always HAPPY to have another person helping with the mountains of work that these ladies and gentlemen climb every day.

Non-profit is hard work and not always glamorous. If you can lend four hours to give a hand, that’s fabulous and much appreciated! As a volunteer you are always respected and welcomed with gratitude.

I do this in my father’s name. I hope he’s proud of me.

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Mary Jo Keffer, a volunteer in the Rockford office, is a former business education teacher at the high school level. Besides her wonderful personality and positive attitude, she is extremely proficient with the Microsoft Office Suite and she’s always willing to share her knowledge with the staff.

“The Rockford Office is extremely fortunate to have found Mary Jo,” said Lorita Ooyen, Rockford Office Manager. “She is like a life preserver that was tossed to me in the middle of the ocean! I was looking for an individual with Microsoft Office skills in Publisher, Word and Excel and she came to my rescue. She has been working on updating our Tips and Tricks and has already donated 67 hours since June 2011.”

In addition to her time volunteering in our Rockford office, Mary Jo also has other volunteer responsibilities, including:

  • Serving on the Advisory Board and teaching for the Center for Learning and Retirement at Rock Valley College
  • Does various volunteer activities at her church including hospital visitations, driving the elderly, Christmas Basket program co-chairperson, the parish Diocesan Stewardship Campaign, and member of the Woman’s Guild Board
  • Serves on the Board of Directors and is the supervisory committee chairperson for the Winnebago County Schools Credit Union
  • Rockford ProAm Golf Tournament ticket chairperson

It’s hard to understand how she has any time left for the Alzheimer’s Association! We consider ourselves fortunate to have such a valuable volunteer and friend.

Thank you for everything you do, Mary Jo!

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My name is Matt Cardinal. I am 38 years old and was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois. I currently live just outside of Decatur in Forsyth, Illinois. My wife’s name is Heidi and we have a daughter, Avery, and are currently looking to grow our family through adoption. I am the Radiography Program Director at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. I have been in this position for nearly 5 years. The previous 6 years I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur as a Radiographer. I graduated from the same radiography program in 2005 and went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree at Millikin University and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. I am an avid sports fan and the majority of my hobbies revolve around sports.

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association?
In 2004 my father was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies. Over the 9 years leading up to his passing in 2013, we saw his mental health deteriorate. His autopsy report indicated he in fact had Alzheimer’s, and no presence of Lewy Bodies. I had never heard of Lewy bodies, but was familiar of Alzheimer’s. Once we got that news the scare of it possibly being genetic worried me. It took me a couple years to really come to terms that I needed to be involved with this organization; that and selfish reasons to help find a cure or even a mechanism to slow down the process for a loved one or myself. I was directed to get involved by a colleague who had been a volunteer with the association for a couple years. She is a nursing instructor and used her students to help volunteer for the Walk in Decatur as part of their community service requirement. So in 2015, for the first time I got involved. In my first year I wanted to just follow the lead of others, but ended up being very involved in a pseudo sponsorship chair role. I enjoyed getting different sponsors for the walk. I also volunteered at a few other fundraisers and advertisement campaigns to spread the word about Decatur’s walk for Alzheimer’s. I have no idea how many hours I volunteered in that first year, that wasn’t anything I even thought about tracking. I tried to be as involved as I could and do anything asked of me.

What are some of your responsibilities as the Decatur Walk Committee Chair?
This year I was asked to take on the role of Decatur Walk Committee Chair. I have to admit the thought of taking on that much responsibility after only volunteering one year was intimidating. Ultimately I said I would, and now I find myself even more passionate about helping any way I can to raise awareness and funds to help people much smarter than I help those affected by the disease. In the position, which is just beginning, I work closely with the co-chair and the Alzheimer’s Association staff partner. Together the three of us plan each event, including a volunteer kickoff where we assemble a team (the full committee) of like individuals looking to put an end to Alzheimer’s. Once we have the committee assembled I will look to delegate to various volunteer chairs certain tasks, I will offer them support and resources and a helping hand in the completion of those tasks. I also plan to serve as a leader and let my passion and story provide the inspiration to others to really put forth the effort to raise awareness by putting on one of the biggest most profitable Walks in the state if not country.

Why the Alzheimer’s Association?
I wanted to align with a charitable organization to be a better role model for my students and my child(ren). The Alzheimer’s Association was an easy choice for me for various personal reasons.

Why should others volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
I would recommend anyone who has a passion to help others to volunteer for your local Alzheimer’s Association. People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, and the families who support them are in real need of help. The one stat I go to try to get others to see how important it is to get involved is: Alzheimer’s is currently the only top 10 (currently 6th killer) in the USA that cannot be prevented, slowed or stopped. I also tell them I truly hope that they never have to deal with the disease through a loved one, but at the rate it is growing that is becoming increasingly unlikely. I got involved for several reasons, but my dad was the main reason. I hope people get involved so they don’t end up with a similar reason later.

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The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter is deeply saddened by the news of Maury Elmore’s passing. The chapter would like to thank him for all his time, hard work and dedication to our organization.

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association?
“I took care of my wife who had Alzheimer’s for about 6 or 7 years, and it was a different experience every day. You would get frustrated, then happy, and then you’d get frustrated again. It was difficult at times because you’d think things are going along okay, but then they take a turn. To always be around somebody like that…that you really love and care for…it can be really hard to deal with sometimes. A little before my wife passed away I went down to an Alzheimer’s event at The Crowne Plaza in Springfield. I didn’t know much (about the disease) at the time, so I went down there to maybe learn more about it. I got in contact with some Alzheimer’s Association people and they helped me sign up to be a volunteer, and I’ve been volunteering for about three years now.”

What kinds of volunteer work have you done with the association?
“I support the Association as much as I can. I usually go to events and fairs as an AACR (Alzheimer’s Association Community Representative). I’m also a retired contractor, so I built a special memory board for the Springfield Walk last year. People could come up and write who they were walking for on the board, or just write a little message for others to read. It was a huge success… I was happy to do it. I’ve met a lot of nice people who work with the Association, which is real rewarding for me because I’m by myself now. It wasn’t great how I met those people with my wife being sick, but I’m happy that I did.”

Why should others volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association?
“They (the Alzheimer’s Association) always need help. Alzheimer’s is something that a lot of people don’t know much about. The more people that get involved and know about it, the more they can advise others on what to do or where to go for help. Alzheimer’s can be really hard to cope with, so we need all the help we can get.”

“Maury may have started out as a volunteer in the Springfield office, but his unique personality and ‘way with the ladies’ soon made him a friend to all he met.”
– The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter Springfield Office Staff: Tina Arnold, Sara McGady and Kelly Lane

“Maury’s caring and jovial nature always brightened my day. He had a way about him that made everyone feel comfortable. He has left a lasting imprint on my life and will surely be missed by all of his friends at the Association.”
– Elizabeth Wells: Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter Bloomington Office

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The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter would like to recognize one of our most dedicated volunteers, Patricia Joseph, for the five years of time and effort she has put in verifying and updating resources the Alzheimer’s Association provides. This includes nursing homes, in-home care and elder care law firms, among other services.

“The database the Association maintains is so important for clients and caregivers,” said the Chicago resident.

Joseph’s mother, Elma Claire Joseph, passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2012 at the age of 89. When she was diagnosed, Joseph, the oldest of her family’s six children, got involved with the organization, seeking guidance and camaraderie at an Alzheimer’s support group and educating herself about the various issues dementia presents.

“The education and information I received made the disease not so scary, made it so you don’t feel so alone,” she said. “Another thing I learned is that everybody in a family has got to understand what this disease means in their own way and in their own timeframe.”

Volunteering with the organization has helped Joseph to feel as though she’s given back to a cause that has meant so much for her personally. Her background in database management made her a great fit for volunteer work in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Chicago office, but she encourages those looking to help to figure out what best suits them.

“Explore what the options are,” said Joseph, who mentioned advocating and assisting with fundraisers as other ways she’s seen to get involved.

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About me
In a nutshell, I was born in the south suburbs and moved to the western suburbs (Westchester) with my family as a teen. That’s where I met my husband of forty-five years and also where we raised our three sons. I retired three years ago after working in my husband’s dental practice for twenty-two years. About six months after my retirement, I decided I had way too much free time and missed the structure that a job tends to provide. Applying to the Alzheimer’s Association online was easy. I heard back from Louie, the Volunteer Director, almost immediately and joined the volunteers at the Chicago office about two and a half years ago. Here’s the rest of my story...

What led to your involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association? What specifically drew you to the cause?
I was looking to do more after retiring. For several years after my father was diagnosed with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association sponsored a day long family conference in Rosemont. My sisters and I went to three or four in hopes of educating ourselves on the condition and of finding ways to keep Dad’s life meaningful and satisfying. The conferences were very helpful in so many ways. It prepared us for the journey ahead and offered ways for us to cope with what ended up being so difficult to witness.

What kind of volunteer work do you do for the Alzheimer’s Association?
I do mostly clerical work for the Chicago office. From stuffing envelopes or preparing team leader packets to writing thank you notes or making thank you calls, to verifying dementia care facilities services to calling walk volunteers and team leaders encouraging them to continue their efforts to help the Alzheimer’s Association find a cure.

What do you believe you are gaining by volunteering?
By volunteering in the Chicago office, I’ve been given an easy opportunity to repay the kindness offered to our family during my Dad’s illness.

What have you learned from your volunteer efforts?
By volunteering at the Alzheimer’s Association, I’ve learned first-hand what makes the Association work – a dedicated staff of young women and men who are very committed to their jobs and this very worthy cause. I’ve also learned that mostly women bring the “message to the masses” – the walk volunteers and the team leaders are by far mostly women (sorry guys). These are the people who nudge their significant others, their families, their friends and co-workers to get involved and to give their time, their talents, their resources. From some of the walk volunteers I’ve had the pleasure to chat with, I’ve learned that the path I walked with my father is shared by so many other families. The Alzheimer’s Association can offer families and caregivers so much support. I do what I can to spread the message.

Why should others volunteer/get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association?
The Alzheimer’s Association is more than a worthy cause. The condition will affect more and more families in the future. Anyone who has experienced the cruel realities of dementia/Alzheimer’s can at the very least lend a sympathetic ear to those who find themselves in similar circumstances. The Association makes donating time and talents so very easy. The schedule is flexible in terms of days and times. And the Volunteer Director is very considerate of personal schedules and obligations. It has been a perfect match for me.

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“You don’t realize how ugly Alzheimer’s is until you do your research or are personally affected by it,” illuminated 23-year-old Alzheimer’s Association volunteer, Sarah Sabet. The Arlington Heights resident became involved with the organization in 2012 during her time at Elmhurst College.

“While I was a student, I became a member of Sigma Kappa, whose philanthropy is the Alzheimer’s Association,” said Sarah. “It wasn’t until I started to participate in the Alzheimer’s annual Walk that I wanted to become more involved.”

Growing commitment
After her collegiate career, Sarah’s involvement with the organization only grew. In 2014, she joined the Chicago’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s® committee. In 2016, she became an AACR (Alzheimer’s Association Community Representative) along with becoming an office volunteer and a Without Warning support group assistant at Rush University Medical Center.

While Sabet has not been personally affected by the disease, she recognizes how prevalent it is and the devastating toll it takes on people and their families – which has deepened her passion for the cause.

“I think making people aware is key,” Sarah said. “You know, I feel like people don’t know much about the disease. For example: when someone says, ‘I have cancer,’ every one freaks out. But when someone reveals they have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, people don’t know how to react. I think people don’t realize how fatal it is.”

Among the top leading causes of death in the U.S. and Illinois, Alzheimer’s comes in at number six. However, it is the only disease on the list that does not have a cure or even treatment to slow its progression. “This is why we need to find a cure,” Sarah said.

Involvement is key
One of the youngest volunteers of the Association, Sarah encourages people of all ages to become involved. “I know when you’re young, you don’t think the disease will have any effect on you, but who knows. Thirty years down the line, you could be the one taking care of someone, or vice versa.”

The motivation for finding a cure has pushed Sarah to spread awareness to younger generations. “Our generation is the future,” Sarah said. “And who knows – we could be the generation to put an end to Alzheimer’s.”

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Virginia Jansen, a volunteer in the Rockford office, has dedicated 14 years of service to the Alzheimer’s Association. A Chicago native, Virginia moved to Rockford with her husband in 2001. Two months after arriving in Rockford, Virginia’s husband lost his 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Virginia enjoys reminiscing about the printing business the couple once owned, and the single-engine land and sea aircraft she flew in her spare time as a pilot. Two years after her husband passed away, she visited the Alzheimer’s Association in Rockford to see if she could help make a difference.

“I’ve been here ever since!” Virginia says, happy that volunteering offers her the opportunity to assist the Association’s mission and that every day is unique: “It’s a wide variety of things…mostly organizing different packets, brochures, letters and other mailings. During Walk season I help fold the shirts and coordinate the colored flowers. I try to help out wherever I can.”

Having seen the devastating effects of this disease firsthand, Virginia believes volunteering for an organization like the Alzheimer’s Association is a worthy cause. “When I realized how many people suffer from Alzheimer’s, I just wanted to help. It’s a great organization. They are trying really hard with research efforts to find a cure.”

Virginia Jansen is one of the 2,304 volunteers who contributed 21,580 hours of service in 2016. The estimated value of all of their amazing work is $508,424.80, according to Independent Sector.

The Alzheimer’s Association in Illinois not only provides volunteer opportunities, but also a variety of resources for caregivers, family members and those living with the disease.  Visit our website at alz.org/Illinois for a selection of volunteer opportunities and all of our available resources.

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Alzheimer's Association

Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.