Spearheading outreach to local Asian community
Tenny Tsai is a long-time donor, fundraiser and supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Her hard work and dedication to the cause have helped to create the Asian Community Fund and increase outreach and support to the Asian community.
Inspired by a beloved grandmother
Tenny Tsai lost her grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease more than 25 years ago, but she still gets emotional when talking about the woman she lived with most of her life — first in Taiwan and then in California.
“I was devastated when the doctor delivered the diagnosis and told us she probably had only one year left to live,” Tenny says. “But we pulled together as a family and cared for her like every day was her last.”
One year of attentive, compassionate care turned into seven. When Hung Yu Bee Kuang passed away in 1990, it left a gaping hole in Tenny’s life. “A voice inside me said, ‘Now what? What do I do?’” she says. “I realized the best way to show my love for my grandmother was to turn my grief into action.”
Tenny first came to the Association in the late 1980s seeking information and support as her grandmother’s health declined. Her participation in a support group did more than give her the emotional strength she needed — it opened her eyes to the special challenges many Asians face.
Many Asian families have been misinformed about what an Alzheimer’s diagnosis means. “In our culture, Alzheimer’s and dementia are commonly seen as shameful,” says Tenny, who tells a story of a young Chinese woman whose husband divorced her after her father was diagnosed. “Years later, she came to a support group and cried out, ‘Where were you when I needed you?’ That cry has never left me.”
Creating the Asian Community Fund
An Alzheimer’s Association supporter and volunteer since the 1990s, Tenny spearheaded the creation of the Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter’s Asian Community Fund in 2001.
The fund enables the chapter to provide bilingual and bicultural staff, volunteer training, support groups and literature in three Asian languages. It also allows the chapter to handle hundreds of Chinese-language phone calls for information, referrals and care consultation, and to reach thousands of individuals in the Asian community annually through education programs.
“Tenny approached me twice — first in 2001 and then again in 2015 — and asked me to put together budgets for providing services to the Asian community,” says Bill Fisher who was the chapter’s CEO at the time. “She said, ‘I feel it’s necessary, and I will raise the money.’ And she has, both times, starting with making the lead gift.”
Expanding the fund
In 2016 Tenny announced an effort to expand the chapter’s Asian outreach efforts at a dinner hosted by former chapter board member Eva Jones. More than half of the campaign’s $400,000 goal was met in one evening, thanks to significant contributions from Tenny and fellow campaign leaders (and then chapter board members) Alex Tsao, who is now on the Governing Board, and Elsie Wu, as well as Solomon Tsai. A generous matching gift challenge from longtime Association donors Debbie and Henry Pao helped raise the remaining amount.
Since then the budget for the chapter’s Asian outreach work has more than doubled, thanks to the success of the most recent campaign for the Asian Community Fund. The chapter added a full-time Family Care Specialist who speaks Cantonese and increased the hours of the Outreach Specialists (who speak Mandarin and Cantonese) to full-time. As a result, the chapter has tripled the number of individuals served over the last three years to over 3,000.
Continuing to lead the way
Today, Tenny continues to make generous gifts and lead the annual fundraising efforts for the Asian Community Fund. “People are motivated to give to the Asian Community Fund because they recognize the need for outreach and service to the Chinese community and they feel that they can make a difference,” said Tenny.
As a former member of the Association’s board of directors at the chapter and national levels, and a managing director of the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, Tenny knows how to make the business case for investing in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
“I share the Asian Community Fund’s annual report card, which shows that the Association is a responsible steward of donors’ money,” Tenny remarked.
“I also share statistics showing that if you’re not already living with the disease or acting as a caregiver for someone who has it, the odds are high that someday you likely will be,” Tenny says. “However, I wanted to create a third option. You can become an investor to end Alzheimer’s.”
Still, she believes her fundraising is most effective when she speaks from the heart. “When others hear the grief in my voice after so many years, they want to help, even if they haven’t experienced Alzheimer’s themselves,” Tenny says.
Supporting other caregivers
After concluding her time as a board member Tenny wanted to stay connected with her community and volunteered to co-facilitate a support group. “I felt it was important to stay connected with families facing Alzheimer’s,” said Tenny. “Now I co-facilitate a ‘learning circle’ [education and support group] in Sunnyvale with one of our Asian Outreach Specialists.”
Tenny’s grandmother continues to inspire her commitment to fighting Alzheimer’s. “By passing the love she gave to me on to other people, I’m showing my love for her,” Tenny says. “I still miss her every day.”
You can help support the Alzheimer’s Association by making a donation. From face-to-face or telephone support to online education programs and promising worldwide research initiatives, your donations make a difference in the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
For resources in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean please visit alz.org/asian.