Recently, John Trombetta succeeded Debbie Moroney as Executive Director for the Alzheimer’s Project. We are excited to have him on board and enjoy the new perspective that he brings to the table. We all care about and support the Alzheimer’s Project for different reasons. What if you have no connection to the disease? Below, John shares his story about how beginning this new position with AP has come with many lessons.
“Have you had any personal experience with Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family or been a caregiver?”
This question has been posed to me several times during my interview process for this job. It was also the one I feared most. I answered by sharing that my only experience was with my wife’s grandmother. I never got to meet her. She lived in a nursing home and wasn’t able to recognize her own children, therefore, meeting me would have likely added to the confusion. Just recently, my Aunt reminded me that my grandfather, who I am named after, also had dementia. Though I was young when he died, I still remember him and “his chair” but I didn’t remember his diagnosis.
I somewhat feared that question because I felt like maybe I needed more of a connection or understanding. After a month on the job, it turns out I was right, but not for the reasons I initially thought. And even if I didn’t have that personal experience, it got real personal real quick.
A brief background…
Prior to coming to Alzheimer’s Project, I was with the Florida State Alliance of YMCA’s. I worked mostly with kids, while doing support for the Senior Programs and Health Strategies at YMCA’s around the state. The work I was doing with Seniors was more about disease prevention and healthy lifestyles. Needless to say, while there is some overlap in self-care and healthy choices, I am doing much different work here.
What I’ve Learned and Want Everyone to Know
The reason that initial question about my experience was so important was not necessarily about me understanding the disease or the role of a caregiver, although that was part of it. It was more to prepare me for meeting that first client and hearing about the daily challenges of caregivers and those living with the disease. I know now, that it hurts. That it’s gut-wrenching, depleting, and can break down a person of extreme strength. Alzheimer’s disease knows nothing of defeat. It has no cure.
I’ve had the opportunity to take those initial calls a few times now. I hear and empathize with all of those feelings coming across the phone: anger, fear, hopelessness, loneliness, confusion, love and compassion. Many feelings and some almost at odds with each other.
If I didn’t “get it” by taking those initial calls, I understood entirely when one of those initial calls turned out to be a family friend. It hit me even harder when I attended a support group where I saw the parents of my friends that I grew up with. So, while I have much to learn, I have quickly gained a greater understanding of the importance of this organization – and the lifeline that it serves as for the lives of caregivers and those living with the disease.
So, where do we go from here?
Our work is tangible. It’s felt by those who are comforted by our support groups. It is also seen in caregivers who return renewed by the break they have during respite care. While that work has been delivered in different forms during COVID-19, our efforts can’t diminish because the disease doesn’t take a break.
It is an honor to work with such a dedicated staff. They care a lot about what we do and how we do it. Each one of their cases is equally important to them no matter the level of assistance needed. I am lucky to learn from them! My predecessor set me up for success by assembling this team and for setting up a fundraising operation to help us support it.
I truly look forward to continuing this work and meeting all of those who support it. Further, I hope to bring more people into the Alzheimer’s Project family; more people needing our services and more people supporting the services we provide. I don’t think I’ll ever need inspiration to do this job. If I ever do, all I have to do is pick up the ringing phone and listen to the caregiver on the other end.