Finding comfort through a catalytic movement
When Paula Robichaud’s sister was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 56, Paula was surprised that someone could get Alzheimer’s so young. However, it was because of her sister’s diagnosis that Paula found herself attending a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association with her good friend, Michaela “Mikey” Hoag. Mikey was launching an effort to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. Paula was inspired to join Mikey and a dedicated group of women who created Part the Cloud, which has currently raised and invested over $63 million in Alzheimer’s research.
Despite leading busy lives across different time zones, Paula Robichaud of Carmel, California, and her six siblings always remained close. The family stayed in touch through email — sharing jokes, recipes and life updates.
Even a long-distance relocation couldn’t keep them from remaining connected. When one of Paula’s sisters, Terry, moved to the Middle East in the mid-1990s for her husband’s job, the family cherished their correspondence even more.
Noticing the signs
During the years she lived abroad, however, Terry’s communication began to wane.
“Terry had always been a funny and very capable person,” Paula recalls. “But I was hearing less of her personality in her emails and noticed they were getting shorter.”
After Terry and her husband, Clif, returned to the United States in 2003, it became even more evident that something serious was happening. Terry, who was usually well organized and social, was dropping the ball on tasks and seemed confused. To the entire family’s shock, she was diagnosed at age 56 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2007.
“We were all in disbelief at first because she was so young,” says Paula, a securities trader turned family therapist. “We had no family history of Alzheimer’s and therefore little personal understanding of the disease. When we learned there were no effective treatments, it was really hard for everyone.”
Clif was a dedicated caregiver for Terry, taking time away from work and prioritizing her care. Terry rapidly progressed through the disease and lost her battle in 2011 at age 60.
Inspiration for a fundraiser
Shortly before Terry’s death, Paula attended an Alzheimer’s Association Reason to Hope luncheon in Northern California with her longtime friend, Michaela “Mikey” Hoag, whose father had died from Alzheimer’s. Mikey had an idea to host a fundraiser to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, with the dream of finding more answers and getting closer to a cure.
“Mikey was starting to put people together to make her vision a reality,” says Paula, who recently became a member of the Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Society, the organization’s highest and most involved level of giving.
“After an inspiring man named Mike Fischer, who had the same diagnosis as my sister, spoke to the crowd at that luncheon, I was galvanized to join the effort and be part of a solution.”
Part the Cloud
In partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, Mikey, Paula and a committee of dedicated women pooled their talents to organize the first Part the Cloud gala, held in Silicon Valley in 2012.
The event, which called on community leaders, business executives and celebrities to raise awareness and funds to fight Alzheimer’s, was an inspiring success, raising $2 million.
“We didn’t even know if it would come together,” Paula reminisces. “Yet our Northern California community embraced and supported our efforts, and it was successful beyond our wildest dreams.”
Part the Cloud has evolved into much more than a star-studded fundraiser, becoming a global movement to accelerate promising Alzheimer’s disease research. Prior to 2020, Part the Cloud had raised over $30 million, funding 39 research awards that are advancing findings from the laboratory into possible therapies — filling the gap in Alzheimer’s drug development by supporting early-phase clinical studies.
In the fall of 2019, Bill Gates joined the movement by making a personal $10 million gift to the Alzheimer’s Association to stimulate an additional $20 million in private philanthropy, doubling Part the Cloud’s total research investment to $60 million.
This year, Part the Cloud raised over $33 million and has currently awarded 59 research grants since 2013.
Hope for the future
Paula credits Mikey at the helm and the partnership with the Association for all Part the Cloud has been able to achieve. “Mikey has never wavered in her pursuit of this mission or commitment to it. She pulled together a dream team committee that rolled up their sleeves for this cause,” she says. “I also have to give kudos to the Alzheimer’s Association because they have been a wonderful partner. It’s a two-way street of support with them.”
Although Terry has been gone for nearly a decade, Paula continues to feel comforted — and hopeful for the future — through her work with Part the Cloud.
“I am grateful that I was invited to build something so meaningful,” says Paula. “It really does honor my sister in a very personal way, but it’s larger than that. It’s giving back something to the community at large who may someday benefit from this effort. It’s about universal collaboration — supporting each other and banding together to find answers.”
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.