Why I volunteer: Terese Capizzi

Terese Capizzi and her mother, Josie.
Terese Capizzi and her mother, Josie.

Last updated on December 20th, 2021 at 02:36 pm

Seven years ago, my life changed in two impactful ways. My mother lost her 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and I joined my colleagues at Northwestern Mutual two days later in the Milwaukee Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I spent the walk talking with a member of the Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin Chapter board of directors and learned about the free services and support the association provides so that no family has to face this disease alone. I decided that I needed to take action and volunteer to be part of the fight to find a cure. I joined the board and am now vice chair, in addition to being a member of the executive committee, advocacy committee, gala executive committee, and chair of the development committee. My focus has been on educating businesses about the role they can play in being part of the fight.

My 38-year career at Northwestern Mutual centered on the start-up and operational running of the long-term care insurance line of business, working alongside wealth managers and financial advisors. We understood the significant emotional, medical and financial toll Alzheimer’s disease has on the families impacted. My Alzheimer’s advocacy work focuses on influencing the National Institutes of Health to continue to raise the research funding for a cure, which we have been able to get to $3.2 billion annually.  

It’s important that businesses understand how Alzheimer’s affects their employees. Sixteen million Americans provide unpaid care for people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and six in 10 caregivers were employed in the past year. Nearly one-quarter of these caregivers are in the “sandwich generation,” taking care of an aging parent and children under 18. This increased pressure on workers continues to cause 18% of caregivers to cut back their work hours and 9% to give up work entirely. There is also increased instances of people now in the workplace with early onset Alzheimer’s. 

I continue to be impressed with the passion and drive that trained volunteers and staff at the Alzheimer’s Association have in providing free care and support to caregivers and those living with Alzheimer’s, as well as the educational sessions they conduct. Help is provided 24/7, free of charge, so no one has to face this disease alone. Businesses can request informational sessions for their employees, such as Know the Ten Warning Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Other support includes brain health education, caregiver health emphasis, assistance with information and resources for a new diagnosis, and various support groups. Many of the trained volunteers are retired teachers and business leaders. I personally have been able to take my experience presenting to large groups to help spread the word about the association to Rotary clubs, Lions clubs, and businesses. These touchpoints also help us recruit participants and chairs for the 27 Walk to End Alzheimer’s events in Wisconsin as well as the annual gala.   

I promised my mother I would work to find a cure because no family should have to go through this terrible disease alone. When I attend the Alzheimer’s Walk, I still get emotional during the promise garden celebration, where we gather as a community and demonstrate our solidarity in honoring our loved ones impacted by this disease and promise to remember, honor, care and fight for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. I hold the purple flower in honor of my mom and hope and pray every day for the white flower to be added to our garden, representing Alzheimer’s first survivor. That is the vision: to get to a world without Alzheimer’s.

Terese Capizzi recently retired as the director of long term care at Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual. She has been a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association since 2016.

This story is part of the 2022 BizTimes Media Giving Guide. See the entire publication here:

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