Tatem Elementary student Maria Keegan doesn’t spend her free time like many typical fifth graders.
Tatem Elementary student Maria Keegan doesn’t spend her free time like many typical fifth graders. She can often be found creating folders that are disseminated to team captains during the Walk to End Alzheimer’s or passing out fliers among other acts of volunteerism.
“It makes me feel like I am helping even though I can’t take away Alzheimer’s. … I can at least try to change what people know about it,” Maria said.
Every year, Keegan volunteers at various events in and around South Jersey to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
As a frequent volunteer at the Alzheimer’s Association office in Marlton, Maria said she enjoys raising awareness and getting the community involved. While at the office, Maria spent the day creating folders for team captains for the nationwide Walk to End Alzheimer’s, held in the fall.
In addition to volunteering at the Alzheimer’s Association office, Maria and her mother, Amy, operated a kids corner booth at the Mercer County Walk last year in Princeton and frequently volunteer at Lakewood BlueClaws baseball events.
During the walk in Princeton, Maria helped educate passersby on hand-painted porcelain flowers that convey different messages about Alzheimer’s depending on their color. Maria shared some of her hand-painted flowers and used them as samples.
“The kids would come up and they would paint the flowers and I would help explain,” Maria said. “I showed them what it is meant for.”
As a frequent volunteer at the BlueClaws baseball games, Maria volunteers at a stand where she helps pass out information and business cards for the Alzheimer’s organization.
She was inspired to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, JoAnne LaPergola, an Alzheimer’s Association staff member. Her great-grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, was also one of the factors that lead her to spread awareness about the disease.
Maria said that when people learn about Alzheimer’s from an early age, they can learn about what it is and help others understand what the disease is and how to support those living with it.
According to LaPergola, the Alzheimer’s Association provides services, support and training to residents of New Jersey and it has a Helpline available around the clock. The association’s nationwide walks provide funds to support these services. The Greater New Jersey Chapter and Delaware Valley Chapter has seven walks in the state, according to LaPergola.
Both Maria and her mother encouraged older residents to stay on top of their health and to be aware of any changes they see in their mental state.
“I think it’s important to know that getting confused or memory loss is not always a normal part of getting old,” Amy said. “It is important to get checked out.”
Maria plans to volunteer to spread awareness of Alzheimer’s throughout her educational career and beyond. Passionate about sports, Maria sees herself as a professional basketball player when she gets older but wants to remain an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness.
“When I get older, I still want to help out,” Maria said.
For more information on the association, go to https://www.alz.org/nj/.