2017 Nominees Section
Position: Family Care Associate II
Organization: Alzheimer's Orange County
What role does your nominee have in senior care and senior care issues?
Carleena is one of those special people you meet; she’s friendly, warm, gracious, and totally unassuming. What you don’t realize, is just how much of her heart she gives to those around her “behind the scenes.” Carleena has been with Alzheimer’s Orange County for nearly 9 years as the first and direct line of contact to individuals who call the Hotline. For most of the callers, they are complete strangers to the organization, typically at their last rope and in need of direction, information, and most importantly…someone to listen to their story. Carleena is this life-line and likely the saving grace for many of the callers, who are so often overlooked in our society.
Carleena’s passion for seniors began at an early age when her grandparents, though they had very little, took her in and raised her as their own in the small, rural town of Jackson, Maine. While moving many times throughout her childhood, she was exposed me to the harsh realities that so many families face, which allowed her to understand the challenges that are real for so many. After earning a dual degree in Elementary Education and Psychology, Carleena also completed a study abroad to India. There, one of her field placements was in a women’s dowry burn victim hospital and another in a Rotary school. This trip, along with two others, exposed her to poverty, violence and marginalization of populations. Yet, it also showed the beauty to be found in other cultures and in the strength of a people fighting to overcome a system that is deeply ingrained in inequity.
Why should this person be nominated
The one constant throughout Carleena’s life was her grandparents and her great-grandmother, who later developed dementia. Carleena still recalls the final time she saw her. She was bedridden at that time, and, as she lay her newborn daughter in her arms in a room filled with five generations, she experienced a moment of clarity in which she told my daughter that she loved her. She said to her that she knew she would not live to see her grow up, but that she would always be looking down on her from Heaven as her guardian angel. She passed away 2 weeks later. The great lesson that impacted Carleena was, that even when the mind is ravaged from Alzheimer’s, the essence of the person within is still there and can be glimpsed and must always be respected.
While raising her children, Carleena returned to complete for my Master’s degree in Social Work, with a concentration in Older Adults and Families. Her first year, she was placed Alzheimer’s Orange County as an intern. This is where she found her true passion. Carleena goes into every call and every meeting with the goal of letting that family or individual know that they are heard; that they are important, respected and that their story is the only one that matters in that moment. The staff at Alzheimer’s Orange County truly value and respect Carleena’s strength of spirit and gentle nature. She is a true Hero to the families who call, she is the heartbeat away that gives them hope!