Mountain View woman helps employer join movement to end Alzheimer’s


Finding the time to do good in the community while working full-time can be challenging. Companies like VMware are leading the way to encourage their employees to get more involved. Karen Smyth, an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer from Mountain View and employee of VMware recently received recognition for her leadership on the Silicon Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee. Karen provides excellent tips on how others can get their companies get involved.

First steps

Karen and her father

Karen first started participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2005, when her father, Lorne Smyth, was living with Alzheimer’s disease. She started as a participant in the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s and later participated in the Silicon Valley Walk. Karen enjoyed the Walks but was unable to give more time since she was working full-time and helping to care for her father.

Helping to plan

After her father died in 2014, Karen decided that she “wanted to do something more.” She attended a mixer to learn about the Walk planning committee. With her knowledge of the Walk and her past experience as a lead event volunteer for another nonprofit, Alzheimer’s Association staff quickly tapped Karen for a leadership role. Karen served as marketing subcommittee chair in 2014, Walk co-chair in 2015 and Walk chair in 2016 and 2017.

Company involvement
When Karen first participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, she was working at Cisco. Cisco employees had started an Alzheimer’s Support Network, which Karen joined. They held online meetings with guest speakers who provided education and resources. Cisco had a company Walk team in the Bay Area and have since become a national team.

When Karen joined VMware, she was impressed by how much they encourage employees to support local nonprofits. It starts during employee orientation, when groups of new employees are encouraged to complete a community service project. If an employee provides more than 40 hours of community service during the year, s/he can choose a nonprofit to receive a $1,000 donation from VMware.

Employer recognition

Screenshot of Karen’s award

VMware gives awards each quarter to employees who have demonstrated their commitment to Execution, Passion, Integrity, Customers and Community (EPIC2). Recently, Karen was honored to receive the EPIC2 award from VMware, recognizing her community service to the Alzheimer’s Association. Karen’s supervisor nominated her for the award, which was announced at a staff meeting. They shared information on the numbers of Americans affected by Alzheimer’s and how Karen’s efforts were making a difference.

Karen says she appreciates her recognition, but also the fact that community service is a shared value with her company. She said, “knowing that my employer and I both recognize that there is something bigger than work out there is important and makes me want to stay with VMware.” She also appreciated the effort of her manager, who nominated her for the award.

Tips for getting your coworkers involved
Karen believes that more companies should be involved in community service. In a competitive job market, it helps with recruitment. Many people want to work for a company that gives back and provides opportunities for employees to do the same.

Karen highlighted some of the ways that she raised awareness of the Alzheimer’s Association at work:

  • Show your purple – be visible. Wear your Walk to End Alzheimer’s or The Longest Day shirt on casual Friday.
  • Put up Alzheimer’s Association educational or event materials on the outside of your cubicle or office.
  • Note your Alzheimer’s Association event participation in your email signature block, with a link to your team page.

All of these activities help raise awareness about your involvement and often start conversations with your coworkers. Karen had several examples of coworkers sharing their personal stories with her. Karen connected them to Alzheimer’s Association resources and encouraged them to join her Walk team. Karen said that it helps to “take small steps and build upon the prior year’s efforts.”

Tips for getting your company involved

Karen and teammates

Karen shared great advice to employees who would like to get their company more involved. First, find out who selects community service efforts for the company. It may be a staff in community relations, foundation giving or human resources. Once you identify that individual, set up a meeting. Share your passion for the Alzheimer’s Association and ask what opportunities there might be for others at the company to get involved.

Bring information on how the workforce is currently impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias (see or contact the Alzheimer’s Association for materials). The majority of caregivers of those with dementia are currently working. While most companies have resources related to maternity and childcare, it is less common for companies to offer resources related to elder care.

Opportunities for your company to support the Alzheimer’s Association may include:

Benefits of getting involved
In her work promoting Walk participation at VMware, and her leadership roles on the Walk planning committee, Karen has met many individuals whose families are currently affected by Alzheimer’s. It reminds Karen of what she faced when she was caring for her father. She said, “I’m grateful that I can be of help to others. I’m having conversations with people who are now in that same world I was in eight years ago. I get that feeling of being lost and alone, and I know that talking helps.  I can be that person to listen, make that connection, share a resource or just help lighten their load.”

If you would like more information on how you can get your employer  involved with the Alzheimer’s Association, sign up to participate in an event, or become a volunteer, check out the links below or call us at 800.272.3900.

Learn More
Alzheimer’s Facts
Walk to End Alzheimer’s
The Longest Day
Alzheimer’s Workplace Alliance
Ways for companies to get involved
Volunteer opportunities

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