Making a Difference in Fairfax

Making a Difference in Fairfax

Volunteerfest activities help clean and refurbish day center for Alzheimer’s patients.

Carrie Cronin, Shelly Chahel and Beverly Janson spent their Saturday morning hammering nails and hanging frames. They were designing a "Wall of Thanks" for the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center in Fairfax Saturday, Oct. 22, helping clean and refurbish the center along with over a dozen other volunteers as part of the 2005 Volunteerfest project.

"We decided we wanted to help with elderly care," said Janson, who with Chahel and Cronin found out about the center through her employer, Deloitte. "It's very touching. A lot of {the volunteer] activities worked with young kids."

At this year's Volunteerfest, Volunteer Fairfax’s own celebration of the national Make A Difference Day, over 900 volunteers from in and around Fairfax County signed up to volunteer at over 56 organizations, from geriatric care centers such as the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center to public libraries to homeless shelters. Poor weather canceled many of the outdoor Volunteerfest events, but at the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center, volunteers painted, dusted and decorated all morning.

"It's good to pay attention to a smaller organization that helps out in the community," said Chahel.

"We thought it would be a nice thing to do together," said Nicola Palmer, who helped organize a group of volunteers from international consulting firm Bearing Point, where she works. "We wanted to get out and do something positive."

For Tom Ossim, managing director at Bearing Point, there was "no question" of where to volunteer. Ossim’s parents had Alzheimer’s, he said.

"We do a lot of fun stuff [as an office]; we go on ski trips," he said. "This is a chance to give something back."

THE ALZHEIMER'S Family Day Center works with men and women with Alzheimer’s-type diseases. It includes an awareness program about the disease and other dementias, workshops for men and women in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's and a day health program for participants in the middle stages of the disease. It is also the only day center in the metropolitan area that serves people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s who need help with basic activities, said Blair Blunda, executive director of the center.

Kelly Moore, an employee at the Day Center, finds that it provides a much-needed resource for the community.

"There isn't a lot of focus for elderly care," said Moore. "We've got tough competition [in funding and volunteerism] with the kids' programs … the percentage of elderly people is growing, with the Baby Boom generation getting older."

Blunda agreed. "This is the first time we've participated in Volunteer Fairfax," she said. "What's interesting is that people had an interest in working with the elderly. Alzheimer's has impacted many people."

At the Alzheimer's Family Day Center, program participants come from all walks of life, said Moore. "With the disease, it doesn't matter your status in society," she said.

The center's programs are designed to stimulate participants' minds, she said. Tai chi lessons help with mobility, she said. "Van therapy," where center employees drive participants to Washington, D.C. or into nearby parks to see the foliage, allows participants to observe the outside world, said Moore.

But the busy life of a nonprofit organization means that some things, like reorganizing or repainting, keep getting put off, said Blunda.

"There comes a time when you say, 'There's just so much stuff,'" said Julie Smariga, a board member of Volunteer Fairfax. "Painting the handrail is not really a priority."

"For us, what's great is to connect with so many people," said Blunda.

The volunteer spirit in the Fairfax area is quite alive, said Smariga. "There's definitely an energy," she said. "People are excited about what they are doing and having fun. A big part of volunteerism is fun."

When the carpets were shampooed, the dining area decorated with pumpkins and orange and black paper chains, and the Wall of Thanks completed, Blunda gathered the volunteers into the kitchen to thank them with a pizza lunch.

"This is great. It looks so good," she said. "I can’t wait for Monday morning."