Profile: Michigan junior Liz Fernandez experiences how “contagious caring can be”

 

More than 1,000 residents from Washtenaw County and beyond joined the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s in the fight to end Alzheimer’s disease in October at Washtenaw Community College. Participants raised more than $185,000 to fund Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

Now in its 27th year, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti has raised nearly $2.5 million since it began in 1991. Leading the way in raising the most money for such a great cause was Liz Fernandez and her sorority sisters Sigma Kappa at the University of Michigan.

Alzheimer’s is personal for Fernandez, a Connecticut native now in her junior year at U-M and a proud member of Sigma Kappa.

“My aunt’s mother has Alzheimer’s,” she says. “It has always been something deeply personal for our family and something we do not talk about much. The pain of talking can be unbearable, and it is for that same reason that I wanted to get involved in the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I don’t want any more people to feel pain. I don’t want any more people to have to worry if their children or their grandchildren will be affected by the disease. I want to live in a world where everyone can sit around the table at Thanksgiving. It also saddened me that my younger cousin didn’t have the same relationship with his mom’s mom as I did with my maternal grandmother. Both of my grandparents have made a tremendous impact on my life and I would not be half the person I am without them. I walk because I want every kid to bake cookies with their grandma before Christmas, sit on their grandpa’s lap at a Yankee game, and run into their grandparent’s arms at every family dinner.”

Fernandez, 20, was very proud that she was able to raise the most money for her now local Alzheimer’s chapter. But it was a team effort.

“To know that feels amazing, but I know I could not have done it without my incredibly generous and loving Aunt Liz and Uncle Joey,” she said. “Their kindness inspires me and I am so lucky to have such an incredible support network. I just hope I can inspire my family the same way they inspire me.”

Sigma Kappa’s main philanthropy is the Alzheimer’s Association. Every month, they volunteer at St. Joe’s Memory Arts Cafe, an event at St. Joe’s Mercy Hospital where patients with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and loved ones hang out, listen to live music, and eat dinner. They also volunteer at Evangelical Homes of Michigan and paint with patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

“This helps us keep a personal connection to the cause, and makes us feel like we’re making an impact in our own community,” says Fernandez, whose major is Public Policy with a concentration in Health and Culture. “We also attend other Greek life philanthropy events on campus to encourage the culture of doing good.”

Fernandez’s participation in the Alzheimer’s Walk was one of the first things she did as a new member of Sigma Kappa. And every step had purpose and meaning.

“It was incredible to see such a large and diverse group of people all come together for one cause,” she said. “I was inspired that despite our differences, everyone at the Walk had one goal- to end this vicious disease. I also volunteered at various assisted living homes. I always left feeling a mix of emotions – sad, cheery and inspired. I was always sad that there was not more I could do, that my being there would not change the circumstances of patients living with the disease. Yet I still felt cheery. Happy I could be there to help in anyway I could. Happy to see family caregivers hold their loved ones hand like nothing could tear them apart.

“Ultimately, I felt inspired by all the goodness in the room. The need for help and all the desire and willingness to do so. I knew I wanted to play a large role in the organization.”

Fernandez believes that everyone, whether they have a connection to the disease or not, would benefit from participating in the event. She says it’s incredible to see how many people are affected by the disease through a family member or a friend.

“People of all ages, genders, and races are so incredibly enthusiastic about fundraising for a cure,” she says. “Participating in the event is truly one of the most electrifying events I have had the pleasure to be a part of.I learned that everyone wants to do good, they just need the opportunity to do so. As students, we are all busy with school, clubs, and taking care of ourselves that it seems like there’s little time for much else. However, I saw girls who were never too excited about philanthropy suddenly very interested in the cause. Above all else, participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s has shown me how contagious caring can be.”

 

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