Top fundraiser builds community of support for dementia caregivers
Jeanne O’Neale is one of the top fundraisers on one of the top teams for the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® in Humboldt County. She shares how she has been so successful and supports the community that she loves.
A phone call
One night, Jeanne O’Neale went to see a musical performance at Humboldt State University. She sat in the middle of her row and was enjoying the music when her cell phone buzzed. She sent the call to voicemail, but it buzzed again and then again. Realizing it must be urgent, when the song ended, she climbed over the 12 people in her row to the exit.
When Jeanne reached the lobby, she found it was her mother calling her. Quickly, she called her mother to find out what could be so urgent. “Mom was hysterically bawling,” said Jeanne. “She thought she forgot to check her blood sugar the day before and she was devastated. It took me 15 minutes to calm her down, telling her it was okay.”
While Jeanne’s mom was never formally diagnosed with dementia, it was clear to Jeanne and her family that she had it. Jeanne’s mom sadly died in 2011.
Helping to start Walk
Before Jeanne knew about her mother’s dementia, she opened a local branch of Visiting Angels, a senior home care agency, in Eureka, California. The founder of Visiting Angels strongly encouraged all Visiting Angels locations to start and/or participate in a Walk to End Alzheimer’s. However, at the time, the closest Walks were either in Redding, California or in Oregon and while Jeanne wanted to start a Walk in Eureka she just didn’t have the time.
Fast-forward to 2016 when it was announced that Walk to End Alzheimer’s was coming to Eureka. Jeanne knew she had to get involved. “I always felt guilty because I didn’t have time to [start a Walk in my community],” said Jeanne. “The first [Walk manager] came and spoke to me, and I jumped on board. [She said she needed] to find a Presenting Sponsor and I said, ‘okay let’s do that!’”
Seven years later and Jeanne is still supporting Walk every way she can, but especially with fundraising. Jeanne loves competing for top fundraiser against fellow team member Lynn McKenna, who was featured in our blog last year. “My goal is to beat her every year,” said Jeanne. “Lynn and I always push each other and bounce back and forth throughout the year.”
Visiting Angel’s founder and CEO, Larry Meigs, offers additional donation incentives to encourage every one of his branches to raise funds. He donates up to $200,000 of his personal money to branches that meet certain criteria. This includes things like top fundraising team, largest team and most improved.
Jeanne wants her team to be the one that gets the bulk of these rewards. “In 2021 we were the number one team nationwide. We raised over $100 thousand. $50 thousand locally, $35 thousand from being the number one [Visiting Angels] team, $5,000 for the most team members and $5,000 for having the number one fundraiser.”
In 2022 Jeanne’s team raised over $62 thousand and were the second place Visiting Angels team. However, after receiving their prize of $35 thousand from the CEO it bumped them into first place by the end of the year.
Jeanne has been one of the top 100 Walk fundraisers nationwide for two years in a row. As of the writing of this blog, Jeanne’s team has raised over $22,000 which is nearly $12,000 above the next top Visiting Angels team. When Jeanne was originally interviewed in August 2023, she stated that she hadn’t even really started fundraising this year, having raised around $2,000. In less than a month and a half Jeanne is only $300 short of her $10,000 goal.
“My goal is to find a cure,” said Jeanne. “Funding research is super important. We can’t find a cure without doing that. It’s nice to see the research is done all over the world and in so many countries and little Eureka can make a difference in that. I’m really proud of my community.”
Jeanne does both her own personal fundraising as well as utilizing her company to help raise funds. In addition to asking friends and family for donations to her page she also puts a magnet on her car that advertises Walk. When people come up to her to talk about it, she hands them a slip of paper that lists three things:
- How to join the Visiting Angels’ team
- How to donate to Jeanne’s page
- Information about Walk
- What day (October 14)
- Where (Adorni Center, Eureka)
“I tell people about the walk,” said Jeanne. “It’s a morning event, not all day. The program is 30 minutes long. The Walk it’s more ceremonial. It’s to raise awareness and bring people together. You get to talk to vendors and find services. You don’t have to be on a team to come. There’s such a variety of ways people can participate and donate.”
Jeanne also engages her employees to raise funds:
- Payroll deduction – employees can deduct $5 per paycheck for an end of the year donation to Walk
- Casual for a cause – employees make a donation for a sticker that allows them to wear jeans on Fridays.
- Parking spot auction – employees bid on nearby parking spots, highest bid wins
- See’s candy fundraiser – registers with See’s candy during the holidays where a portion of the proceeds go towards Walk
- Mailers – includes information about Walk and fundraising in existing mailers that are being sent out to staff and those paying for private care.
- Restaurant give back night – works with local restaurants to donate a portion of the proceeds on a specific day and time to Walk
- Booths at community events – sets up booths at several community events and encourages people to make Walk donations
Building a team
Getting her team to be one of the top teams isn’t a job Jeanne can do alone. This is why she tries to get as many team members on her team as possible (of course the extra $5,000 incentive for top team from the CEO doesn’t hurt either).
Jeanne encourages her staff to join the Visiting Angels team by setting up computers at work for them to easily log in and register. Then she recruits her family and friends from across the country to sign up on her team as well. Even if they can’t be with her on Walk day, they can still join her team. “My friends talk to me about what they’re going through with their parents and I invite them to join our team and ask for a donation,” said Jeanne. “Communication is love and if you communicate with people, it makes the world a better place.”
Calling for support
In addition to fundraising, Visiting Angels is this year’s Check-In sponsor and Jeanne is looking forward to connecting with so many people in her community. “I love connecting with people that need help and resources,” said Jeanne. “Seeing people that don’t feel alone anymore. When people first start to navigate life with Alzheimer’s, everything is brand new. They have no idea how to navigate it.”
Jeanne encourages people to use the Alzheimer’s Association® 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). “People need to know there are resources,” said Jeanne. “The 800 number is available anytime and you get help from a professional when dealing with an issue, even in the middle of the night. People need to know they’re not alone and they can get help.”
Connecting with community
Jeanne shares stories of friends and strangers crying in her arms because they feel so alone in their dementia journey. “People are out there on their own,” said Jeanne. “If I can connect them with resources, respite grants, [or other agencies], that is super valuable to our customers and the community. If I can hook people up to grants and organizations, it’s a win win even if Visiting Angels doesn’t get involved.
“There are two types of people: helpful and not helpful. I want me and my company to be helpful. If someone calls asking for resources, even if you discover we’re not the solution, if we can be on the phone and give them our undivided attention then it’s a win. That’s what we need to do for people, help them maneuver this disease.”
Please find these resources for those living in Humboldt County:
- Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900
- Alzheimer’s Association website, alz.org
- Humboldt Senior Resource Center: Adult Day Health and Alzheimer’s Services programs. 707.443.9747
- Visiting Angels 707.442.8001
- Redwood Caregiver Resource Center. Contact Erin McCann, MSW at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1.800.834.1636
- Area 1 Agency on Aging 707.442.3763
- Adult Day Health Care of Mad River 707.822.4866
- North Coast Neuropsychology 707.595.7997