When very large donations make headlines, it can leave the rest of us feeling like our contributions to the community aren't as important. Nothing could be further from the truth. While large donations are certainly a cause for celebration, it is the more modest contributions from hundreds or thousands of individuals and businesses that keep most community organizations and charities operating. And many of those people are finding interesting and different ways to promote awareness and foster support for the causes they care about.
Amelia and Riley Hartnett were only five and eight years-old respectively when they found a way to contribute in their community. Their grandfather had Alzheimer's disease. People sometimes forget that this disease impacts entire families, including children. One of the activities they enjoyed with their grandfather was singing "Simple Gifts," one of his favourite hymns. One day, after having visited their grandfather in the nursing home where he lived, the sisters went door-to-door to their friends and neighbours, singing some of their grandfather's favourite songs. The price was a steal at ten cents for one song or two songs for twenty-five cents. To their surprise they earned $6.52 in tips, which the girls hand-delivered to the local Alzheimer Society in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
"We gave it to them hoping that they could make a cure or some medicine," remembers Riley who is now 12 and has a better appreciation of the challenges involved. However, the experience taught her the importance of contributing even in small ways. As a result of their giving, Riley and Amelia were invited to celebrate their donation and perform "Simple Gifts" at the "Lieutenant Governor's Coffee Break®" an annual event of the Alzheimer Society. Joined by His Honour and the Minister of Health at the time, the sisters also sang "The Sun will Come Out Tomorrow" and stole the hearts of everyone present. It was beautiful moment, made all the more poignant by their grandfather's death a few weeks earlier. Their small contribution made everyone present realize they all have a reason to care.
"When something touches your heart you want to find a way to give," explains Valerie Lowe of Climax, Saskatchewan who lost her father to dementia in February 2009. To honour him, Lowe hosted a tea party at her quilting shop in the small farming community. Her guests enjoyed the hospitality of Lowe and her staff and thanked them by making voluntary donations to the Alzheimer Society. "A disease like Alzheimer's leaves you feeling so helpless," said Lowe. "Hosting this event helped counter that feeling. It felt good to be doing something to contribute." Next she plans on gathering a group of quilters together to make a special gift for the Alzheimer Society, which they can use in their fundraising.
Valerie Lowe's didn't realize that her event was very similar to a nation-wide annual fundraiser of the Alzheimer Society called Coffee Break®. The beauty of Coffee Break® is that it offers people a simple way to promote awareness for a cause that affects so many Canadians – 1 in 11 Canadian over age 65 have Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.
Alzheimer Coffee Breaks are hosted by volunteers in homes, businesses, corporate offices, church halls, shopping malls – anywhere where coffee can be served or the distinctive Alzheimer Society coffee cup cut-out can be distributed. Participants at these events make a donation to the Alzheimer Society in exchange for a cup of coffee. It's simple, it's fun and the money raised stays in the local community or province to help support local programs and services.
Dean and Aline Brush and their son Mathew are restaurateurs from Cornwall, Ontario who have found a unique way to engage a group greatly impacted by Alzheimer's disease – residents, their families, and staff in nursing and retirement homes. The Brushes are the franchisees of the local Joey's Only Seafood Restaurant. Like many of the other franchisees, the Brushes support Coffee Break® with a promotion in their restaurant, but they also sponsor a friendly competition in the community to promote support for the Alzheimer's Society and encourage family outings to the restaurant. Judging from the fabulous response to the promotion, people from the retirement and nursing homes are delighted to be included in the Brushes' simple and fun competition. Each year the winning residents are treated to a celebratory fish and chip dinner. The Brushes host the luncheon in their restaurant, giving residents a special outing, or they bring Joey's to the winning nursing home and cook lunch for the residents there. "We always have a great time at that lunch," says Dean.
Most Alzheimer Coffee Breaks are much simpler events than the one organized by the Brushes. There is even a way for people with little time to spare to contribute to their community by hosting a Coffee Break® online at the cyber café. No matter the size, every Coffee Break® is important. Coffee Break® helps fund essential programs and service for people with Alzheimer's disease, their caregivers and their families.
Coffee Break® is held from coast-to-coast during September and October. The Alzheimer Society is looking for volunteers to be leaders in the community by hosting a Coffee Break®. To learn more, visit www.alzhiemercoffeebreak.ca or contact your local Alzheimer Society.