Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America and one in three seniors dies with it or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Everyone can be affected,” says Kelly Hein, Alzheimer’s Association volunteer and chair of the Young Professional Alzheimer’s Advocates of Washtenaw. “Even if you don’t get it yourself, you could have a family member with it and you could have to become a caregiver.”
And Hein was affected, which launched her passion to volunteer for the organization and her dedication to spreading awareness about the disease.
“I unfortunately lost my grandmother to the disease in 2011,” says Hein who lives in Westland and works in Ann Arbor. “It was unfamiliar to our family. No one else had it and we didn’t know anything about it.”
Hein, 31, began working with the Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer, and now, three years later, she is the Chair of the Young Professional Alzheimer’s Advocates of Washtenaw. She was recently named Alzheimer’s Association “Volunteer of the year South Central Region.”
Through her experience so far, she says she has learned so much about the disease and its effects.
“It broke my heart to see my grandma not remember me or my family. You forget your name, how to eat, how to go to the bathroom, it’s not just cute funny mishaps like some people think. You don’t know where you are or who’s around, it’s so scary,” she says. “I’ve learned what people go through and how to help people going through it, both families and patients.”
The mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to eliminate the disease by advancing research, providing care and support for those affected and reducing the risk of dementia by promoting brain health. A big component of accomplishing this goal is spreading awareness, and that’s where Hein comes in. She says targeting a younger age group is key.
“It’s one crucial age group that’s missing and it’s important to get young people involved,” Hein says. “The disease is happening younger and younger and it’s only getting bigger,” Hein says.
How does she cater to her target audience? Hein hits up social media to advocate whenever she has a free moment, spreading the word to younger generations via the medium they best connect with. Additionally, Hein is co-chair of Michigan RivALZ, a charity flag football game that raises money and awareness for the cause and involves a younger crowd.
The game is based on the Wolverine-Spartan rivalry, with the Young Professional Alzheimer’s Advocates of Washtenaw facing off against Lansing’s group. Over $56,000 have been raised in just two years from this game. This year, the game will take place in East Lansing.
The Michigan Great Lakes Chapter executive director, Jennifer Howard, is grateful for all of Hein’s work for the organization.
“From her work with Michigan RivALZ and YPAAW, to her involvement with our Concern & Awareness board workgroup and her continued commitment to our advocacy efforts, Kelly has been an incredible asset to our organization,” Howard says. “We are thrilled to have her help in raising much needed funds and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease in Ann Arbor and beyond.”
When asked about how she manages a wealth of volunteering while maintaining her full-time job as a Marketing Director, Hein says, “It’s something that means so much to me. If you’re passionate enough about something you will find time for it and until we find a cure, I can’t stop.”
WeLoveAnnArbor’s Volunteer Spotlight series focuses on the wonderful people in our community who give their time and effort for something they believe in and are passionate about. If you know someone in Ann Arbor who you feel deserves a little pat on the back for their hard work, please e-mail Terry Jacoby at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s our small way of saying thanks!