Napoletan on a mission to end Alzheimer’s

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Ann Napoletan was presented with the “Spirit of Philanthropy” award by Jeff Wolf, National Church Residences Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Mission Impact, at the organization’s national conference in September.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                               lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – It was a bit of a shock when Ann Napoletan’s daughter put a hand on her shoulder during the awards presentation at the National Church Residences national conference.

“I didn’t know why she was there,” recalled Ann, an Treasury Manager at the home office in Columbus. “I thought maybe something was wrong.”

Ann was sitting at a table full of colleagues, who had suspiciously made sure their table was toward the front of the room. Little did Ann know that she was the only one at the table – including her daughter – who did not know she was about to receive the National Church Residences “Spirit of Philanthropy” award from Jeff Wolf, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Mission Impact.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Ann said. “I was just blown away. Absolutely blown away. I still am.”

From 9 to 5 (and sometimes even longer) Ann crunches numbers as part of the team of accountants who manage National Church Residences’ budgets. But it is the tireless work she does on the side that truly embodies the organization’s “Spirit of Philanthropy.”

Four years ago Ann lost her mother, Marilyn, to Alzheimer’s Disease shortly after her 76th birthday.

“My mom was the most lively, full-of-life person,” Ann said, sitting for this interview on what would have been Marilyn’s 80th birthday. “My daughter doesn’t want to see the words Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’m the opposite.

“I have to know there’s a greater purpose. For me that’s advocating, teaching, writing, helping other families. It’s almost like a second career.”

After her mother’s passing, Ann began a blog called, “The Long and Winding Road” at www.ALZjourney.com.

“The best way I can keep mom’s memory alive is to keep telling her story,” Ann said.

As her writing gained popularity, she was asked to contribute to the online content for organization’s that dealt directly with Alzheimer’s care.

In 2013 she was asked to co-moderate an online support group called, “Us Against Alzheimer’s.”

“This year I launched a non-profit in my mom’s name,” she added. “I had done so much fundraising for other groups, I just wanted to have a little more control of where the fundraising dollars were going.”

Marilyn’s Legacy: A World Without Alzheimer’s is Ann’s non-profit that is focused on not only finding a cure for Alzheimer’s but also providing unique opportunities to benefit individuals currently living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“I know that I’m making a direct impact on these people’s lives,” Ann said.

The fact that National Church Residences made a point to recognize Ann for her work made it a little more special.

“It was a great experience to be recognized,” she said. “To be at a company that cares about things like that … that it’s not all bottom-line oriented. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Ann added that it is because of her experience in facing her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease that she found her way to National Church Residences in June of 2014.

“I am at National Church Residences because of my mom,” she said. “I was at Nationwide for 27 years. I was in a good place financially and career-wise, but I wasn’t fulfilled at all.”

With a background in treasury, Ann said that it was like divine intervention that the position she currently holds became available at the exact time she felt the need to make a change.

“This treasury job almost fell into my lap,” she said. “This is where I’m meant to be. Even on a bad day, that over-arching mission is still there. I gave up a lot, but I’m so happy here.”

Mill Run resident turns donation into gifts for Memory Care patients

Mill Run resident Delilah "Dee" Beeman is sewing stuffed animals that she will give out as gifts to the facility's Memory Care patients

Mill Run resident Delilah “Dee” Beeman is sewing stuffed animals that she will give out as gifts to the facility’s Memory Care patients

By LANCE CRANMER                                            lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

HILLIARD, Ohio – It’s an unspoken lesson learned quickly by folks who grew up on the farm.

If a neighbor needs a helping hand, you give it to them.

“I’m an old Iowa girl,” said Delilah Beeman, better known as “Dee” around National Church Residences Mill Run. “That’s what we were taught to do on the farm. We help each other.”

As far back as the second grade, Dee remembers her mother teaching her how to sew.

A quick glance around her apartment at Mill Run and her handy work is obvious.

Her bedspread, drapes, jacket, tea cozy … all products of Dee’s creativity with a sewing machine.

But it’s the little things that Dee does for others – most of the time without even being asked – that makes her beloved among the staff and residents.

“All she needs is for someone to say, ‘this might help if …’ and it’s done,” said Linda Roehrenbeck, the Executive Director at Mill Run. “She doesn’t thrive on kudos. It’s the joy she gets from giving.”

When a resident suffering from a brain tumor lost her hair due to radiation, Dee quickly knitted her a few caps.

“She didn’t like bright colors so I made her black, brown, gray and tan ones,” said Dee, who also makes hats for patients at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus. “I’m a cancer survivor. Twice. So I understand.”

When the shirt-savers, worn by Memory Care patients while they eat, began to show signs of wear, Dee collected them and sewed new Velcro patches on so they once again stayed in place.

Dee is a member of the Knot Just Knitters club at Mill Run. As the program began to grow in popularity, a generous donor dropped off a large amount of material for the group to use.

“When the material came in, it was such nice material, I thought we had to use it for something else,” Dee said. “I make all kinds of little goodies.”

Dee decided to take the material and make a pattern for stuffed animals that she could pass out as presents to the Memory Care residents on Mill Run’s second floor.

“Our Memory Care patients would love to have things to hold,” said Linda. “She got the idea and she just started going. And then she decided that the men shouldn’t have Teddy bears. The men need a football.”

In the first week Dee produced a little more than a dozen small stuffed dogs, bears and footballs. She gave out one at first, but held the others until she made sure Linda approved.

“These are wonderful,” said Linda. “She’s so dear.”

“From the time you cut them out, stuff them and sew them together, it’s a little over an hour each,” said Dee, who suffers from carpal tunnel, but rarely takes breaks from her work. “I enjoy doing it. That’s the important thing.”

Dee arrived at Mill Run in December after many years of living on Columbus’ west side. She moved to the Buckeye State in 1945, married, belonged to multiple Masonic organizations, and raised a daughter and two adopted sons. After 58 years of marriage, Dee became a widow in 2003.

On Halloween, Dee Beeman will turn 93 years old. But to meet her, you would never know it.

“I feel wonderful. My balance is off. So I’m off my rocker,” she joked. “But I feel wonderful. I don’t have a care in the world, really. I don’t have anything to complain about.”

Dee said it is important to her to stay busy. And to find little ways she can help those around her.

“It’s better than sitting around watching TV all day,” Dee said. “If somebody needs a button sewn on, if they come to me, I’ll do it. One lady lost a button on her blouse. I just do little things that don’t amount to much. But she still thanks me for it.”

“She loves doing these things for people,” said Linda, who, like Dee, is a fellow Iowa native and fully understands the way farmers lend each other a hand. “That’s what we do. That’s exactly right. I don’t know why or how, but that’s what our families teach us.”

For Dee, helping others is never work. It’s just the right thing to do.

“I just do things whenever anybody needs something,” said Dee. “I’ll do it if I possibly can.”

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Aging parents and the importance of communication

Conversations between an aging parent and their grown child can be frustrating as the parent ages. Roles have reversed and the grown child is now taking the place as the caregiver for their parent. Instead of asking a parent a question such as, “How was your day?” or “Can you give me advice on…”, grown children will ask “Did you take your medicine today?” or “Why would you do that?”

When communicating with aging parents it’s important to remember their life is rapidly changing and they are trying to maintain a sense of independence. It’s difficult for seniors to rely on others for care and to help solve their problems when they maintained control of their own life before.

Here are helpful tips to keep in mind when communicating with aging parents to keep your relationship healthy and to make the most of your time together.

  1. Take time and be respectful. While adult children are caught up in the demands of family, work and finances, their parents’ lives have slowed down. They have less of a sense of urgency to get things done and may take time to make decisions. It’s not always about being slow or a diminished capacity. This can be frustrating, but remember, parents have a lifetime of experience to draw from and want to make the best decision, instead of the fastest. Be respectful of their slower approach so they won’t think you are trying to control them.
  1. Make time and listen. A quick phone call to check-in or help out with chores is helpful for your parents, however these aren’t quality moments to build your relationship. Make time to have quality days with your parents, even one-on-one, to talk and listen. Let your parents guide the discussion and listen and ask open-ended questions. You’ll be surprised what you will learn about your parent, their life and present concerns.
  1. Reminisce about life. Adult children may think they know their parent, but when you take the time to reminisce about life with them you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. Ask questions to learn more about situations they faced, people they met or places they lived or visited. These life stories are important for families to understand and appreciate who they are.
  1. Ask for advice. Parents are used to their children coming to them for advice or help, and it’s tough to no longer be consulted by your grown children as you age. While the type of advice a grown child is looking for may have changed, look for opportunities to ask “What do you think of this Mom?” or “Dad, what’s more important to you?”

While these are simple tips, these will help you understand more about your parent’s past and what they are going through day-to-day as they age.

Mill Run announces plans for Alzheimer’s Memory Gardens

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HILLIARD, OH – Each year, Alzheimer’s disease slowly steals memories away from the nearly 5.1 million Americans who live with the condition.

For the families and loved ones who feel the effects of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, finding a way to help them remember is a crucial part of providing them with care.

At National Church Residences Mill Run, a senior community located in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, a plan was unveiled to residents at the annual Christmas celebration on Thursday, December 11, for a one-of-a-kind facility that will provide residents suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia a chance to re-experience happier times.

“The true beauty of everything we do involves life and death. It’s an evolution,” said Linda Roehrenbeck, Executive Director of Mill Run, at the announcement of the plans for Mill Run’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Gardens. “This project will evolve. Just like our lives do.”

Scheduled to break ground in 2015, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Gardens at National Church Residences Mill Run will be constructed in multiple phases, eventually culminating in a beautiful outdoor area complete with a park, a garden, a therapy and art wall and a patio for dining and relaxing.

“This garden is grace. There will be moments of serendipity. It will be a way to bring back moments of their lives that were joyful,” said Roehrenbeck. “It has meaning and purpose.”

To design the Memory Gardens, Mill Run enlisted the services of Linda Wilson, a landscape architect with MKSK, who found special meaning in helping with the project.

Wilson’s husband Ron passed away a year ago at the age of 58 from complications due to early onset Alzheimer’s.

“I first came into contact with National Church Residences because I had my husband in their adult day services,” Wilson said. “(That facility) was (previously) an outdoor garden center that had a nice outdoor space. For me a major concern was the quality of life outside of the four walls.”

With the care her husband received in mind, Wilson began designing early plans for an Alzheimer’s memory garden but did not initially have a plan for its location. Mill Run became the ideal spot after Wilson was introduced to Roehrenbeck through a mutual friend who also had a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“Linda talked to me and asked, ‘What do I know about Alzheimer’s Memory Gardens?’” Wilson said. “We developed a plan for this facility and here we are.”

Wilson’s design for the phases of the Mill Run Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Gardens was on display for residents and their families to see during the Christmas celebration. Seeing so many people admire her work meant a great deal to Wilson.

“I teared up,” she said. “It was like, ‘Wow, it’s eventually going to come together.’”

Joining Wilson in the presentation of the Memory Gardens was Pete Trombetti, a commercial builders and one of the project’s initial major donors.

Trombetti’s wife, Maggie, had been a resident of Mill Run from June 2013 until her passing in July 2014.

“We were married for 20 years,” he said. “We traveled the world, the two of us.”

After Maggie’s passing, Trombetti kept in touch with Roehrenbeck at Mill Run.

“I came in to see Linda and she said something about creating a Memory Garden,” Trombetti said. “I said, ‘I’m in!’”

Trombetti said his late wife had a love for gardening and the outdoors in general and that his involvement in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Gardens was on Maggie’s behalf.

“A few of you knew my wife,” he told the audience. “This is for her.”

Trombetti said he was grateful to the staff at Mill Run for the care they gave his wife during her final months.

“Definitely. People like this here,” he said, greeting a Mill Run nurse he knew with a hug. “These are the gems. That’s the reason.”

The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Garden at Mill Run will be constructed in phases as funding becomes available. To make charitable contributions to the project, please contact the National Church Residences Philanthropy team at (614) 273-3582 or Roehrenbeck at (614) 771-0100.

Volunteer opportunities in developing and maintaining the garden will also be available.

(Written by Lance Cranmer, Media/Public Relations Specialist at National Church Residences. Cranmer can be reached at lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org)