Jeanne Atchison – Cause: Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area

Jeanne Atchison has devoted her retirement years to helping an organization close to her heart.

Nearly every Monday morning for the last 15 years, Jeanne Atchison has cheerfully reported for duty at the offices of Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area. The sprightly 83-year-old performs whatever tasks are asked of her with a smile, her only compensation the fulfillment that comes from serving others.

Atchison, who retired from a long career with Shell Oil Comp. in 1992, found herself seeking a way to give back after caring for her husband, J.D. Hyatt, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than a dozen years before passing away.

“She knew she wanted to help others who were coping with the challenges she had faced,” says Alzheimer’s Services Executive Director Barbara Auten. “Since she was retired, she had time to make a regular commitment. Her office skills were a help to (then director) Beth Veazey, and Jeanne found a home volunteering for the organization.”

Atchison’s responsibilities at Alzheimer’s Services have run the gamut from acknowledging memorial donations and preparing mailings to occasionally greeting families and answering their questions about her own experiences. One of her most significant roles has involved the administration of the Safe Return I.D. program, an initiative that provides personalized pendants and bracelets to people with dementia in an effort to help reunite them with caregivers if they wander and become lost. Caregivers can also call a 24-hour emergency response line to notify law enforcement and other authorities so that the patient may be quickly returned to safety.

“This work is meaningful to me because I know exactly what Alzheimer’s is,” Atchison says. “I lived with it, so I know what people are going through. There’s no cure, so all you can do is provide information and help wherever you can.”

A native of Texas, Atchison is the matriarch of a family that includes five great-grandchildren. Her second husband Bill is so proud of her volunteer efforts that he has announced an endowment to the Safe Return I.D. program in her name. It is only the latest way her selflessness is impacting the charity she holds so dear.

“Many, many people will benefit from her dedication and this wonderful gift honoring her,” says Auten.

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How is your cause making a difference?
It enables families of people suffering from the disease to learn more about it. So many people don’t understand it at all.

What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
It’s gratifying, and it gives me something to do now that I am retired.

What do you hope to achieve?

What is something we don’t know about your cause?
The organization is launching two “Recollection Collection Kits,” one for use in long-term care facilities and group settings and one for individual caregivers. Profits from kit sales will help sustain other support programs that are free to the community.