New local Alzheimer's Association leadership has personal connections to the cause

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The Alzheimer’s Association has welcomed Kathryn Cherkas and Jen Norling into director positions for the California Central Coast Chapter to expand its outreach and meet the growing needs of families affected by dementia throughout San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

For both directors, joining the organization and supporting its vision to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia is both professional and personal.

Director of Programs, Kathryn Cherkas, lived with and cared for her grandfather through his Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia journey for thirteen years. She uses her experience as a young caregiver to inform and inspire program and service development, with a particular focus on cultural approaches to dementia care and understanding.

Prior to joining the Alzheimer's Association, Cherkas was the program manager for a local adult day program, specializing in the care of and education for those affected by a dementia diagnosis. Her work in hybrid, person-centered models of care has supported initiatives and partnerships between community organizations, both locally and abroad. She earned a Master of Arts in Sustainable Development and Health from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and a Master of Public Health with a focus on Ethnogerontology and Dementia from the University of Sydney, Australia.

“I have loved and lost many dear friends and family to dementia,” Cherkas said. “I’m inspired by their memory, as well as the commitment of their caregivers, to carry on my work with compassion, empathy and hope.”

Director of Development, Jen Norling, brings 25 years of fundraising, communications and event experience to the Alzheimer’s Association. Originally from Massachuttes, she received a Master of Arts from Emerson College. Her previous director positions at the Northwest African American Museum, Water1st International and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Washington Chapter involved the creation and management of galas, walks and peer-to-peer fundraisers, while also providing opportunities to travel to communities around the world, including Ethiopia, India and Honduras.

Norling’s father passed away in 2018 after battling dementia.

“My personal experience with the disease provides me with the understanding and motivation to help advance this important work,” Norling said.

“Kathryn and Jen bring incredible talent, diverse experience, and a vast understanding of the needs of our families that will support the Chapter to achieve increased fundraising and manage the ever-increasing need for our critical services,” said Lindsey Leonard, executive director.

In 2022, it is projected that over 3,000 families along the Central Coast will be helped with the support of hundreds of volunteers. Access to free programs is crucial for the 690,000 individuals living with Alzheimer’s in California, along with their 1.12 million caregivers. The 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report projects a 21.7% increase in the state’s population of those living with Alzheimer’s by 2025, totalling 840,000.

Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, support and research. The California Central Coast Chapter has offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura and provides free programs including education classes, support groups and care consultations, which are currently offered virtually through online webinar or conference call platforms. Its 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) also offers around-the-clock care and support from specialists and master’s-level clinicians at no cost to people living with dementia, caregivers, families and the public.

“We encourage caring community members to become involved with our chapter,” said Leonard. “We are a volunteer-driven organization and rely on the generous donations and the support of the community to further our mission.”

To learn more or get involved, visit alz.org/cacentralcoast.

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