How do nonprofits continue to serve their constituents when they are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19? One thing the Alzheimer’s Association knows is that you certainly don’t quit. You go virtual.
“One day we will be able to serve our clients in person again, but, until then, we will serve them online in a safe way,” said Natalie Bankowski, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association based in Myrtle Beach.
She said that at first, the shift to virtual took off slowly. But, in recent months, she has seen an increase in interest that probably won’t wane anytime soon.
“Once our clients got the hang of using technology, we have found that these online programs have been very well-received,” Bankowski commented.
The Alzheimer’s Association has moved its caregiver support groups and educational programs online as well.
“Many people had to drive far to come to our in-person programs, but now they can do it from the convenience of their own home,” she observed.
In that sense, she said she finds this change to be a blessing, but she quickly noted that the flip side of the pandemic has been far more damaging than she could have imagined.
“Some of our seniors are just locked up in their homes and never leaving. The isolation is very sad,” she said.
She added that some interesting opportunities have arisen since most Alzheimer’s Association chapters have adopted the virtual platform. For instance, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, where researchers from all over the world come together to share ideas, was held online from July 27 to July 31. As a result, Bankowski and her staff were able to attend the conference, held in Los Angeles last year and originally scheduled for Amsterdam this year.
The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, presented locally by the South Carolina Federal Credit Union, has also taken on a new format in 2020. This year it will be held, well, everywhere. Meryl McCants, walk manager for the Lowcountry, said online registration is open for the Charleston Walk, which will be held at 9:45 a.m. Nov. 7. Instead of hosting a large gathering, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging participants to walk as individuals or in small groups on sidewalks, tracks and trails throughout the area.
To enhance the experience and keep the community connected, participants can use the Walk to End Alzheimer’s mobile app and the new “Walk Mainstage” to livestream the opening ceremony. They also can follow a simulated walk path to track their steps and distance and access information and resources from the Association.
McCants said the app will have interactive elements and notifications along the way, pinging participants with the number of steps they are taking, selfies of other participants, shout outs from sponsors and more.
The walk’s iconic Promise Garden will also be available in a “view only” location in Charleston to honor all those impacted by Alzheimer’s. Beloved by many walkers, the Promise Garden is a time-honored component of the walk-day experience. The brightly-colored flower pinwheels that make up the Garden are symbolic of the personal reasons participants join together to fight Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
There will be both a pep rally and post celebration surrounding the walk this year as well. These online events, along with the walk-day opening ceremony, will be available both live and on demand.
If you are unable to participate in real time, you can do it at a time that is convenient for you.
“We are excited about these events to raise awareness and funds for our mission,” said McCants.
COVID-19 has had a great impact on the Alzheimer’s Association, but the opportunity to renew has been even greater.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Bankowski.
For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association, visit www.alz.org/sc or call the Association’s 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900.
By Theresa Stratford