By Marci Martin
Claudia Mazanec knows about Alzheimer’s. She witnessed the disease progress firsthand in her own family when her stepmom and her sister-in-law both lost their battles with Alzheimer’s at young ages. So, after Claudia retired from her Human Resources career, she didn’t hesitate to join the Board of Directors at Alzheimer’s San Diego when the opportunity presented itself four years ago.
She was eager to lend her expertise to Alzheimer’s San Diego because she loved seeing the good the organization was doing for individuals and families in the community.
“I also wanted to support finding a cure or treatment for this dreaded disease, which is becoming more prevalent as the population ages,” she added.
As a member of the Board, Claudia has served on a variety of committees and helped shape many fundraising efforts. But just this past year, she decided to take on a new role – Companion Volunteer. By becoming a Companion Volunteer, Claudia committed to spend time with a person living with dementia each week so their family caregivers could take a much-needed break. She was excited to directly help another family facing this disease.
“It’s the essence of the mission of the organization,” she explained, “up close in their everyday lives.”
Claudia said going through volunteer training gave her a greater understanding of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
“It gave me a look into how it must feel to have the disease, and to feel the impact of its progression” she continued. “The training was invaluable to me as a volunteer! I still refer to the training documents for ideas.”
Claudia had a choice in the selection of a matching companion. Perhaps it was fate then when she found someone in her community who just so happened to have had a career in HR as well. She felt this would be a good way to connect.
“I have a new family that’s now part of my life. Both mother and daughter (the person with memory loss) are still active and want to be involved with me,” Claudia said, adding that her biggest challenge is thinking of new activities for them all to do.
“We do everything together – outings to the beach, shopping, pickle ball, out to lunch, and even attend Alzheimer’s San Diego education courses,” she said. “We are getting educated together!”
Claudia’s pairing is just one example of the numerous people impacted by our ALZ Companions program. She knows the family is grateful for the support.
“The mom feels relieved that I am there to break up the day for them. It’s fun for both to have a friend stop by to take a walk or go to lunch with them,” she said.
Claudia had an extra-special welcome the last time she dropped by: “When saying hello to my companion, she began to cry when I hugged her. I said, What is this crying about?’ She said, I just love you, that’s all!”
“I try to help meet their needs and bring some joy into their lives. Without much effort, I feel that I am making a difference and I am deeply rewarded,” Claudia shared. “I have learned that just four hours a week of my time means so much to the family dealing with the trials of the disease every single day. And it’s very rewarding when your companion with Alzheimer’s recognizes you, gives you a hug, and tells you that they love you. It’s priceless.”
However, the need for Companion Volunteers at Alzheimer’s San Diego is ongoing. When Claudia was asked what she would say to someone thinking about becoming a Companion Volunteer, she once again did not hesitate.
“Don’t be afraid! Just go and see what needs you can fulfill,” she urged. “The family will be so glad you are there – you will feel welcome right away!”