To help you meet the amazing Alzheimer’s Association team who are “The Brains Behind Saving Yours®,” we are sharing the stories of our chapter staff on this blog. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Kirsten Guanella, The Longest Day Constituent Events Manager for Northern California.
More time with family
Prior to working for the Alzheimer’s Association, Kirsten spent the last nine years working for the American Heart Association. She started working on their Heart Walk but eventually moved into the youth program, helping to champion the Kids Heart Challenge at schools.
As Kirsten continued her work with the American Heart Association, she found herself spending more time in the car and less time with her family. Kirsten explained, “I was traveling four to five days a week and spending eight hours in the car. I might be in Humboldt one day and Vallejo the next. It was exhausting.”
Then she heard about The Longest Day, a program that is relatively new to the Alzheimer’s Association. “The program I was working on at the American Heart Association was celebrating its 40th year,” said Kirsten. “The Longest Day is pretty new by comparison. I liked the idea of being able to make an impact and really grow the program from its infancy. Plus, there is less travel, so I am able to spend more time with my family.”
Silver lining of the Tubbs fire
Tragedy struck Kirsten’s family in 2017 when their home was destroyed in the Tubbs fire. “We made it out with 10 minutes to spare,” shared Kirsten. “At the time my kids were in second grade. We lost everything and had to completely rebuild.
“We were so grateful for our family and friends. Every week we were given donations. It’s very humbling as a parent to watch your child be on the receiving end. My kids now know what it’s like to lose everything, but they also know what it feels like to get something when you have nothing. They are much more giving now than they were before.”
Kirsten and family were very lucky. They had a friend who let them live in their home for two years while they rebuilt. Kirsten’s husband Ray is paralyzed from the chest down from a dirt bike accident in his twenties.
“Before the fire, we’d spent a lot of time, unsuccessfully, trying to make the house more accessible for a wheelchair,” said Kirsten. “The silver lining is that we were able to rebuild our house and make it the way we wanted it. There isn’t a step in the house, and we have nice wide halls. That wouldn’t have been possible if our house hadn’t burnt down.”
The Longest Day
“The Longest Day is a signature event of the Alzheimer’s Association, the other being Walk to End Alzheimer’s” said Kirsten. “It’s a creative, flexible way for people who don’t live near a Walk, but who are passionate about a hobby or activity and want to do a fundraiser for us. The wonderful thing about The Longest Day is that it can be done any time of the year, but we celebrate all the hard work on June 20.
“The other great part about The Longest Day is that it increases awareness. Because events can happen anywhere at any time, it increases our exposure. There are so many people that don’t know what programs and services the Alzheimer’s Association offers and this is one way of getting that information to them.”
Making a connection
Kirsten doesn’t have a loved one in her family with Alzheimer’s but with a husband who is paralyzed, she does understand what it’s like to be a caregiver. “My second week on the job I was encouraged to participate in one of our caregiver support groups,” said Kirsten. “I didn’t think I had a connection, but when I listened to what the caregivers in the group were saying, I realized I did have a connection. I knew what they were feeling because I’m am a caregiver for my husband.”
Staff do their part
One of the unique things about the Alzheimer’s Association is that staff are encouraged to participate in The Longest Day. Kirsten was surprised to learn this fact, “Staff sign up for their own team and host their own fundraisers. Asking them to do something like that had never crossed my mind. The staff here are pretty amazing.”
Kirsten decided to try her hand at a fundraiser, so that she could help others. For her fundraiser Kirsten hosted a Limo and Lights event during the holidays. People were invited to ride in a limo (for a suggested donation) and look at the holiday lights. “I learned a lot from the experience,” shared Kirsten. “I feel like I can better coach others on how to hold a successful fundraiser.”
While participation in The Longest Day may look a little different this year due to physical distancing, our staff and volunteers have plenty of fun ideas you can do from home to engage family, friends and coworkers.
Kirsten recommends utilizing a couple of tools from The Longest Day website. “First there is the Facebook fundraiser,” said Kirsten. “It’s so easy and you can link it right from the website to your Facebook page. The second option is texting your friends and family from The Longest Day app. It’s a nice soft ask and they’re less likely to ignore it.”
If you want to host a virtual fundraiser, Kirsten says that it’s fine to start small. “The first time you hold a fundraiser it doesn’t need to be a huge event,” said Kirsten. “It can just be a few friends and family. The next year you make it a little bigger. Keep building and building and in a few years, you’ll have something that people look forward to attending every year.”
Interested in participating in The Longest Day? Register online at alz.org/tld.
Looking for great virtual fundraising ideas? Download this pdf.