Community

Cedar Rapids Alzheimer's Association chapter expanding volunteer opportunities

Sherita Jenkins is the manager of community volunteers at the Cedar Rapids office of the Alzheimer's Association Iowa Ch
Sherita Jenkins is the manager of community volunteers at the Cedar Rapids office of the Alzheimer’s Association Iowa Chapter. It is launching Volunteer Community, a dedicated online resource for volunteers to sign up, learn, interact with one another across the state and expand the reach of the association’s programs. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sherita Jenkins loves working with volunteers.

“They’re jewels,” she says about the volunteers she works with at Alzheimer’s Association Iowa Chapter in Cedar Rapids. “They do what we can’t staff to do. They see a need and act.”

Jenkins, who was a volunteer coordinator at Horizons before becoming manager of community volunteers at the Alzheimer’s Association, says working with the volunteers “keeps me grounded and reminds me why I do what I do.”

What she does is personal for Jenkins because she lost her mother in the past year. She’s not alone. There are 5.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s, including 65,000 in Iowa. Jenkins said the association estimates it serves just 6 percent to 10 percent of those living with Alzheimer’s.

Not only is Alzheimer’s the most expensive disease in the country, but it also is the sixth leading cause of death in Iowa and the United States.

So Jenkins is excited about a new volunteer recruitment and support initiative the Alzheimer’s Association is undertaking. It’s a dedicated online resource for volunteers to sign up, learn, interact with one another across the state, and expand the reach of the association’s programs in local communities. Volunteer Community allows new users to easily learn about and apply for volunteer opportunities near them, and provides convenient access to volunteer resources anytime, day or night.

In many cases, volunteers come from people with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or folks who work at care centers and want to provide support for family members, Jenkins said.

There are several ways volunteers can support those with Alzheimer’s and their families, she explained. The association offers support groups for families and caregivers and offers social engagement opportunities for those in early stages of Alzheimer’s, such as their “memory cafes” for them to enjoy fun activities. There also are opportunities to do community education about the early warning signs for Alzheimer’s, she said.

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Once volunteers have completed the online instruction, they come into the office to meet association team members and finalize in-person training. This format reduces the amount of time spent in the office but still allows volunteers to learn about the disease and provides the requisite coaching to be successful.

“We’ve been getting the word out by word-of-mouth,” Jenkins said about volunteer recruitment efforts. “Now we’re making an ask.”

Volunteers tell her their experiences are rewarding.

“They connect with the caregiver or the person with Alzheimer’s,” Jenkins said. “They feel like they’ve done something great.”

So at this holiday time when many people are making resolutions and looking for ways to give back, Jenkins invites them to consider the Alzheimer’s Association’s Volunteer Community. They can go to volunteer.alz.org to sign up as a care and support volunteer, or to facilitate a local support group, provide community education or by doing outreach.

For more information about Volunteer Community, contact Jenkins at snjenkins@alz.org or (319) 238-7637.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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