Friendships built at the front desk


Written by Sheri Katz

If you come to our San Jose office, the first person you are likely to see is Jackie Young, our front desk receptionist/office manager. But regular visitors often head straight past Jackie to greet her dogs, Koko and Fito.

Getting to know people

With several support groups meeting in our office, Jackie has photos of all of the group members and gets to know them by name. In particular, she calls the weekly early stage support group participants “my peeps.”

Jackie, at the front desk

“I know who usually shows up on any given day,” Jackie said. She reminds them of their appointments if they choose to take a walk in between sessions.

Jackie also makes sure they have transportation at the end of their group. “I am watching out for them,” shared Jackie.

Here for a reason

Before Jackie started working for the Alzheimer’s Association 10 years ago, she had a stressful job in the marketing department of a large company. She enjoys the opportunity to support others and give back to her community.

“I get pleasure out of helping people,” said Jackie. “It has become my second calling.”

About six months after Jackie started at the Alzheimer’s Association, her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She felt it was meant to be.

“God puts you in certain places for a reason,” Jackie shared. “This (job) was a blessing because my mother-in-law had two sons who didn’t know what to do for her or where to look” for support.

Jackie with co-workers at holiday party

Working with the Association has given Jackie more insight as to what her mother-in-law is going through and how to support her and the rest of the family. Her mother-in-law is turning 90 this spring and they are throwing her a party. They are asking guests to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association in lieu of bringing gifts.

Educating her community

As an African American woman, Jackie feels that there is a lack of understanding of Alzheimer’s in her community.  “Many African Americans don’t think about Alzheimer’s at all,” she said.  

Jackie’s position has helped her expand her knowledge of Alzheimer’s and how she can offer support. She appreciates being able to share what she has learned with others.

Furry companions

Jackie works Wednesday through Friday along with her two dogs, Koko, a teacup chihuahua, and Fito, a teacup Yorkie. The tiny dogs sit behind Jackie’s desk in their stroller and delight people who come into the office. “People don’t know the bathroom code or my name, but they know I am Koko and Fito’s mommy,” she laughed.

Fito and Koko, waiting to greet visitors

“People need puppy love,” said Jackie. “I get such a kick out of bringing them.” The dogs get along well with people and enjoy the attention.

Sometimes Koko and Fito get special treats from office visitors. Jackie has noticed that the dogs help some visitors feel calmer and more relaxed.

Difficult transitions

The support group participants develop bonds with Jackie, Koko and Fito. One of the group participants who took public transportation would arrive early.

Often, he’d take a walk near the office until it was time for group. In the fall, he’d find unique leaves and bring them to Jackie.

Fito and Koko, dressed up for Halloween

After attending for several years, he was no longer able to participate in the group.  “He was so sweet,” Jackie shared, “when I heard that he was not going to be coming to group anymore, I teared up. It just hurt my heart.” Jackie misses seeing him and getting her leaves.

Hopeful

There is one word that Jackie keeps in her vocabulary: hopeful. “I talk to people in person or on the phone who are at their wit’s end” as they struggle to care for someone living with Alzheimer’s.

Jackie reassures them before she connects them to Helpline staff for additional support. “That is what my life is about now,” she says. “I can help others.”

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