By Pastor Joy L. Gallmon
Saint Mark AME Church, Milwaukee
While sitting at a cookout at the home of one of my members, I listened to her lament and laugh about the challenges she faced in caring for her mother. And as I listened to her I realized that I didn’t have the resources to help her. A once-active couple in our congregation wasn’t quite as active. And even on Sunday they came down to the altar for prayer, which was unusual for them. And when I inquired what they would like me to pray for they were a little flustered and never really gave me a straight answer. I found out later as they were preparing to move into a memory care facility that they were indeed suffering and struggling with memory health issues. I had been their preacher. I had been their priest, but I found out I was not their pastor.
I realized that African Americans are twice as likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. I felt ill equipped to guide, to support, to advocate for a significant portion of the congregation God had called and charged me to care for.
I needed a partner. The community I served needed a partner. St. Mark AME Church and the Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association formed a powerful partnership just 16 months ago. Our powerful partnership allows both parties the opportunity to reach more people, share resources and even include the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline number – 800-272-3900 – in our printed worship guide. It has empowered our officers, staff and ushers to be more sensitive to the needs of caregivers, as well as their loved ones in worship. This partnership has given me the access to readily available information about Alzheimer’s and dementia that I need as a preacher, a priest, and a pastor. Information that allows me to work into teaching moments, preaching moments, into meetings, family visits, bedside moments and the church-wide curriculum. Important information about a disease that is twice as likely to impact African Americans. Partnerships allow us to go further, faster. Partnerships expand our knowledge base. They provide an opportunity to stifle the stigma and decrease isolation that goes along with this devastating disease.
Shortly after entering this partnership, I joined the Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin Chapter’s volunteer-led Board of Directors to amplify voices in the African American community and provide strategic leadership so that we can reach more people through partnerships by fostering diversity, equity and inclusion.
During National Volunteer Week (April 16-22) I want to salute all volunteers, and encourage everyone who would like to volunteer to get out there in your community and find your passion. The Alzheimer’s Association needs volunteers here in the African American community, so if you are so inclined, we would welcome your support. There are many opportunities to get involved in special events, tabling events, education, advocacy and so much more. More information can be found at www.alz.org/volunteer. And of course, if you need free care and support services because you are dealing with dementia or are a caregiver, please call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.