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Our Heartbeat: Serving the Community

Theresa Johnston has worked all her professional life with non-profits, but the work that AutumnGrove does to help people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias was as much a part of her personal mission as working at all the past non-profits. She went from a Manager of Resident Care at the Atascocita Cottage to Manager of Outreach Services where she does presentations for professionals and the community on Alzheimer’s and brain health.

Starting with one community, she now speaks all over Houston and the surrounding counties as well as in San Antonio. Co-Founders Bob Fuller and Randy Vanstory expressed an interest in Theresa helping the community telling her that they know that only about 30% of the community can afford to be placed in an Assisted Living but they want to help the caregivers of the other 70% as much as they can to have the tools to deal with these illnesses. So Theresa was up for the challenge!

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Recently, Theresa spoke on “Navigating Dementia” at a caregiver conference. Jill E. was in the audience with tears in her eyes. After the presentation she waited patiently in line with the other people wanting to ask personal questions or tell their story to Theresa. When she spoke with her, Jill stated that she has been seeking help from her healthcare team and from reading on the internet, but that no one had explained to her in a manner that she could understand like Theresa did. Taking Jill through every step of the process helped her to see that she was not alone and what to expect in the future.

Theresa has a steady following of ministers, retired nurse volunteers and others who pass the information on to other groups. Ms. Sheila, who has a husband with Alzheimer’s, said she now has a new way of communicating with her husband after attend the “Speaking Dementia” presentation and feels that she can now respect her husband’s dignity because of the presentation.

“Speaking at our support group has allowed caregivers to ask difficult questions and know how to talk to their doctor.” Says Lisa Suarez, Executive Director of SarahCare Adult Day Care; “ They have a better understanding of the healthcare system and now feel empowered in the decisions they make.”

Mark and Z

“Theresa’s presentations at Interfaith CarePartners’ caregiver education conferences and training workshops are a joy to hear. She is informed, engaging, and, most of all, compassionate and sensitive to the challenges caregivers face daily. Her manner creates a safe environment for caregivers to discuss candidly their feelings, concerns, and struggles. In good therapeutic manner, she does not provide trite answers to complex problems. Rather, she helps caregivers discover their options and, thereby, empowers them to succeed. “I am honored to be a fellow student of caregiving with her and to learn from her.”  stated Earl E. Shelp, Ph.D., Co-founder, Interfaith CarePartners.

In Theresa’s private life she volunteers for other non-profits and just recently became a grandmother. Her husband is a Regional VP for AdCare which is a group of Nursing Homes all over the US. So it is hard to not talk “shop” at the dinner table.

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