A shoulder injury recently prevented Cindy Harris from working full-time as a hairdresser, her career of nearly four decades. But Cindy has been using skills she gained in her field — adaptability, diligence and a knack for listening — to work on something else: raising awareness of Alzheimer’s and all dementia.
“No matter where you live, Alzheimer's hits home. The state of Alaska is no exception,” says Cindy who advocates on behalf of her family, her country and her state of Alaska.
Alzheimer's advocates play a critical role in advancing policies that improve the quality of life and care for everyone impacted by dementia, by carrying our message to elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.
Cindy knows firsthand the impact dementia has on a family. Her mother battled Alzheimer's for 13 years before she passed away in 2010; four of Cindy’s beloved aunts were also lost to dementia. “When my mom passed, I wanted to do something BIG. I have five older sisters and I didn’t want anyone else in my family to be affected. I wanted to be part of getting one step closer to a cure.”
Shortly after organizing her first-ever local fundraising event, “the Alzheimer’s Association asked me if I would be interested in being Alaska’s Ambassador to Congress. “In 2014, I was the first and only Alzheimer’s Association Ambassador in Alaska,” Cindy says. Today, there are three due largely to Cindy’s unyielding efforts.
Ambassadors are volunteers who commit to serve for a renewable one year term, serving as the main point of in-district contact for a specific member of Congress. When asked to serve as an Ambassador, Cindy was overwhelmed, but she chose action over hesitation. “I knew nothing about politics, but I knew I cared about this cause and wanted to make a difference. I had to educate myself.” Cindy learned everything she could about the U.S. Congress, becoming Ambassador to all three of Alaska’s members: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) and Rep. Don Young (R).
The Alzheimer's Impact Movement Advocacy Forum
Becoming an Alzheimer’s advocate has empowered and enlightened Cindy more than she ever expected. “The [AIM] Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C
. is the most emotionally inspiring event I have ever attended. When you attend this three-day, jam-packed event, you will make lifelong friends, gain goals for your personal advocacy work, and leave with so much strength.”
For Cindy, the most rewarding part of the Forum is hearing about research. “I am like a sponge! I soak in everything about the research that's happening: where we've been, where we are now, where we're going."
Every year, the Advocate of the Year Award recognizes an advocate who goes above and beyond in fighting Alzheimer's and supporting families facing the disease. Cindy received the award in 2019. “I was amazed at the number of people who approached me, asking for selfies in the bathroom, like we were at the Oscars. It seemed so funny! But then I thought, hey — people who are working to change the world for the better can be stars, too, no matter who they are or where they are from.”
Why I Advocate
Every year Cindy attends Forum, she comes home to Alaska even more motivated. “Watching Alzheimer’s advocates from each state walk into the Roll Call of the States — where advocates proudly wave their state flags and showcase their state policy accomplishments from the last year — always gives me the chills. Last year, my fellow advocates and I impatiently waited for the doors to open, running with excitement to the front of the room, eager to begin sharing and listening. We all invigorate each other; we are each other’s support system.”
Each year, more than 1,200 Alzheimer’s advocates go to Capitol Hill, wearing purple to meet with their representatives. “That strength in numbers is present at the Forum and advocates bring that home with them,” Cindy says. And those numbers keep growing. Cindy is thrilled that she is no longer a one-woman show in Alaska. “For the second time, we have three Ambassadors attending this year’s Forum: me and my fellow Alaskans Molly and Rhonda! There is still much to be done, but we are headed in the right direction in Alaska and on a national level.”
When her mother was first diagnosed, Cindy didn’t really understand what Alzheimer’s was. Today, she is an inspiration to other advocates. “Just over five years ago, I learned how to talk about this disease with my representatives and fight for a better future for millions. I reach out to my representatives. I reach out to the community. I share my voice for those who cannot.”
Cindy is eager to head to Capitol Hill again this year, representing Alaska and all those affected by this disease. “Forum is how I fight back against the heartbreak, for these families and my own. Mom ... this is all for you!”
Who do you advocate for? Join Cindy and register for the 2020 Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum.
2020 Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum
Alzheimer’s Impact Movement