Early in her professional career, Sandy Clarke was employed in retail management when the feeling came over her that she needed more personal satisfaction in her work life. She felt the need to “give back” to the community. That decision led her to take a job as a certified nursing assistant.
“I fell in love with seniors,” she said, and started her down a new path that redefined her career and led to a virtual second career as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association.
It was in 1990, when Sandy was working as certified nursing assistant and activities director in the Colorado Springs senior living industry, that she first offered to get involved in the brand new Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. Before she knew it, she was chairing the event.
That inaugural Memory Walk – since redubbed the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – raised $2,000. Thirty years later, Sandy is still helming the Colorado Springs event. This is her final year as chair before devoting more time to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and her committee is working towards a much more ambitious goal of $285,000.
Employed full-time as memory care director at Bear Creek Senior Living, the winner of the 2019 Joe Henjum Senior Accolades Volunteer Award acknowledged that she’s tried to step down from the Colorado Springs Walk leadership role a number of times, but the 30th anniversary feels like the right time to turn the reins over to someone new. “I suspect I’ll always be involved in the Walk on some level,” she admitted.
Making a difference for people living with Alzheimer’s
Sandy’s early years in the assisted living industry helped motivate her to be an agent for change on behalf of at-risk seniors. She perceived a need to improve living conditions for seniors, and particularly those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“The industry used to do more restraining of people with Alzheimer’s, which is not right,” she said. “We need to be focused on quality of life and purpose in life – being happy.”
That career change led Sandy to immerse herself in the issues that affect older people. Beyond her day job, she has volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association in a number of ways. She has delivered Alzheimer’s-related education programs in the community, and served a total of 14 years leading Alzheimer’s support groups, including an early-onset group and one focused on frontotemporal dementia.
The target audience for Sandy and the Alzheimer’s Association is a large and growing one. An estimated 73,000 Coloradans are living with the disease – among nearly 6 million people in the U.S. and 47 million worldwide. In Colorado alone, another 250,000 family members and friends serve as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones.
The money raised through the Colorado Springs Walk to End Alzheimer’s – one of a dozen Walks around Colorado and hundreds across the country – go to support education, programs and services provided at no charge to families, as well as research to find a cure for the sixth-leading cause of death for Americans, and the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure.
“It is volunteers like Sandy who make the Alzheimer’s Association run,” said Charlotte Long, development manager who oversees the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Colorado Springs. “Of course, most volunteers don’t commit to a 30-year term of service. We’ll forever be indebted to Sandy for all she has given to us in service of the Colorado Alzheimer’s community.”