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Alzheimer’s San Diego is looking to help support more local families, after unexpected surge in volunteers

Virtual visits have sparked interest from volunteers across the US and even different countries. Thirty volunteers are waiting to be matched with families.

SAN DIEGO — The pandemic has led to isolation and loneliness for many people living with Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.

Alzheimer's San Diego is trying to make a difference. Its volunteers have been doing virtual visits since stay-at-home orders were issued at the start of the pandemic, and now the charity is facing an unprecedented problem.

"We currently have more volunteers waiting than we have families enrolled in the program," said Eugenia Welch, President and CEO of Alzheimer's San Diego.

It's a good problem to have. They can now help support even more people.

{Underlined link: https://www.alzsd.org/services/alz-companions/}

When Alzheimer's San Diego transitioned its ALZ Companions Respite Program from in-person visits to virtual visits, it sparked an unexpected wave of interest from volunteers across the country, stretching from California to Texas to the east coast.

The charity now has well over 120 volunteers from 21 states, the District of Columbia, and even some from different continents. 

"It's actually been unprecedented, the response we've gotten to the Virtual ALZs Companions Program," said Welch. 

"We've had an outpouring of people from across the United States as well as from India, Japan, Poland, Australia, that are just so excited about this program."

Half a world away, people are signing up to volunteer, including Abby, an occupational therapy student in Melbourne, Australia. 

"I'm very excited to get matched, meet new people and have fun through virtual visits," she said. 

"I believe they'll be able to provide me a very meaningful experience of working with people living with Alzheimer's Disease during this pandemic."

In Poland, Heidi is looking forward to virtual visits. "I signed up to become a virtual companion at Alzheimer's San Diego because I really miss volunteering at our local hospital, and unfortunately, I can't do it right now because of the pandemic," she said.

"When I saw Alzheimer's San Diego on Volunteer Match, I became really excited because I would be still be able to help through my companionship and yet try something completely different," said Heidi. 

Now that California has loosened some restrictions to allow people from up to three households to gather outdoors while social distancing, some local volunteers have resumed in-person visits.

Kathy Gibbons said she really enjoys her enjoys her socially-distanced visits with her companion Mel and his wife Bonnie at their home in El Cajon.

"I'm providing much needed breaks for the full time caregiver and at the same time providing an opportunity for socialization, intellectual stimulation, a change of pace, and essentially just a new friend for the person who's living with dementia," said Gibbons.

On a personal note, I can say that the virtual visits have made a big difference in helping my mom Lucy through this challenging time. 

I learned about the ALZ Companions Respite Program last year while doing a news story about my mom's journey with Alzheimer's Disease.

RELATED: Alzheimer's Disease: News 8's Marcella Lee and her mom begin the journey

My mom's companion, Claudia Mazanec, used to come to our home once a week to spend time with my mom. For the past seven months, they've been doing virtual visits. 

Lucy looks forward to the FaceTime calls each week and it makes me smile to see her face light up. It gives my mom someone outside of my family to talk to and laugh with, and it gives me and my family a little break as well.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Helping those with Alzheimer's through social isolation

It's an invaluable resource for us and many other San Diegans, and with 30 volunteers waiting to be matched with a family, now is the perfect time to call Alzheimer's San Diego to inquire about the program if you think it would benefit you or someone you know.

All of the services offered by Alzheimer's San Diego are free.

Due to the pandemic, however, revenue is down, so the non-profit is gearing up for its biggest fundraiser of the year this Saturday, October 17th.

Walk4Alz is virtual this year. You can walk anywhere, anytime on Saturday. Carlo Cecchetto and I will be walking separately with our respective families and we invite you to join us in helping support Alzheimer's San Diego.

To register or donate, please click here. Your support is appreciated!