Oakdale resident uses flexible fundraising to honor her father

When Mandy Raff’s father, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she reached out to friends and family for support. A good friend, who had recently learned about The Longest Day®, held an event in Jim’s honor. Mandy was hooked. Since then, she has held a different event to honor her father every year, raising not only awareness but also funds for The Longest Day.

Mandy and her family celebrate Jim who is living with Alzheimer's
Mandy (second from left) and Jim (far right) with their family

Traveling with Dad
Growing up in Los Angeles, Jim spent most of his time at the beach surfing. He believed in the “work hard, play hard” mentality. As an adult, Jim and his family landed in Oregon where he was a professor at Oregon State. Jim was silly and goofy with his children and Mandy Raff, Jim’s daughter, said, “He would have you laughing at nothing. It brought such a fun atmosphere.”

Jim also had a consulting company where he’d lead consumer research projects for major car companies. His job was to find out how customers feel about the things they buy. “I got to travel with my dad on his work trips,” said Mandy. “I got to see what he did and really engage in his world. For example, I got to see what a minivan really meant to a family. I’d help him take notes from his interviews.”

Missing details
As a highly regarded professional, Jim maintained a busy schedule and always had a lot of activities going at once. While it wasn’t obvious to anyone who wasn’t close to him, Jim’s wife, Kim, began noticing that he was missing details and struggling to keep track of appointments.

Mandy, who was living in Oakdale, California, also noticed that Jim would ask her the same questions repeatedly. “Through my Dad’s college engagements, some of his students ended up working with me,” said Mandy. “He would ask how his students were doing, and I’d tell him. Then a little while later, he’d ask again.”

After seeing doctors for nearly seven years, Jim was diagnosed in 2018 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is considered to be younger-onset if it affects a person under 65 years old. Younger-onset Alzheimer’s is also sometimes referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s. People living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s can be in the early, middle or late stage of the disease.

Caring for Jim
Kim had retired just before Jim’s diagnosis, so she took on managing his medical appointments and any care that has been needed so far. The disease forced Jim to retire earlier than he would have liked, and he is increasingly showing signs of decline. Jim is aware that he has Alzheimer’s but it doesn’t stop him from doing some of the things he likes to do, like bowling, exercising, and walking his dog.

Mandy does her best to help contribute from California. “I’m a quick airplane flight away,” said Mandy. “We try to connect a lot more often. I try to do little things like send meal kits to help out.”

Mandy drinking wine for The Longest Day

Help from a friend
After her father’s diagnosis, Mandy and her family shared the news with friends. A close friend of Mandy’s, Lindsay Paxton, was having lunch with another friend who mentioned a fundraising event for the Alzheimer’s Association® called The Longest Day.

The Longest Day is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. On June 21, thousands of participants from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice. Together, they use their creativity and passion to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

When Lindsay shared this information with her husband, they knew they had to get involved. Lindsay wanted to host an event and recognize Jim. She called Mandy to ask if that was alright. Mandy said, “When Lindsay called and asked me about doing the event in my dad’s honor, I was taken aback. Lindsay told me, ‘This is how we want to share our love.’”

Mandy was supportive of Lindsay’s idea. Lindsay and her husband had a wine tasting event at their home. They had several local wineries involved, did a raffle, and if you purchased additional wine, a percentage would go towards The Longest Day.

“It was a huge event and a total success,” said Mandy. “It was featured on the local news. I was totally inspired.”

Now Mandy and Lindsay both do fundraising events in the hope that together they can raise more money towards the cause. Even during the pandemic both women continued to do virtual fundraisers for The Longest Day.

Mandy shines her light for her dad Jim who has Alzheimer's
Mandy and Jim

Starting her own fundraisers
One of the great things about The Longest Day is the flexibility to do a fundraiser that is meaningful to you and/or your loved one. This is something that Mandy has taken to heart, coming up with a new fundraiser every year.

In 2020, during the pandemic, Mandy hosted a virtual wine event. She and her family shared video tips and tricks. On June 21, Mandy posted something on her social media sites every hour. Some of these posts were about wine, however most of the posts raised awareness about the disease and the work of Alzheimer’s Association.

In 2021 she decided to do a boating themed fundraiser. “Every year since I was little, we would go to Coeur d’Alene to go boating. I wanted to honor that tradition,” said Mandy.

“We got friends and family involved and tried to make it a competition. We asked different teams to post funny videos about how boating impacted their lives and created memories. It was an awareness event, but it opened up fundraising to my friends’ and family’s networks.”

Mandy is currently brainstorming what her fundraising event will be for 2022. “I’ve thought about hosting a rafting event,” said Mandy, “or a parents vs. kids soccer tournament.”

Joining the committee
When Mandy first began fundraising for The Longest Day, she had a lot of questions. She reached out to her local Alzheimer’s Association staff partner, Kirsten Guanella, Manager for The Longest Day. Kirsten put her in touch some members of her committee to help Mandy get the support she needed to be successful.

Kirsten was so impressed by Mandy’s interest in The Longest Day that she invited Mandy to join the committee. Mandy couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity. “There is not a whole lot you can do for your loved ones,” said Mandy. “This was a way to give back and feel empowered to make a difference.”

Bringing her family together
What Mandy appreciates about The Longest Day is how it is bringing her family together. “My husband is super supportive. He’s my second in command,” said Mandy. “He helps with sending out emails and posting on his personal Facebook page. If I need him to be goofy, he’ll do it. He takes everything in stride.

“This is his way of showing that he’s sad my dad is going through this disease. Even our kids will ask us every year when we’re going to fundraise for Pop Pop. The Longest Day is an outlet for our family. It will play a big role in how we grieve and show up for one another.”

Register today to start your team for The Longest Day and receive your free insulated mug. Join us at 5 p.m. on December 21, the Winter Solstice, for our Celebration of Light. Light your favorite candle to honor your loved one and share for whom you shine your light. Click here to open the Zoom link.

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