A conversation with Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., president and chief executive officer, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
Digital Donations recently had the pleasure of speaking with Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA). Prior to taking the helm at AFA in 2014, Fuschillo was a member of the New York State Senate for almost 16 years. He previously served as the COO of a nonprofit family service agency on Long Island and in New York City. Working for a nonprofit seems to come naturally to Fuschillo, as both his parents were involved in the community. His mother was a local real estate business owner and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, and his father was president of the local Little League and an elected official. Their early example of giving back was instrumental in Fuschillo’s decision to work in the nonprofit space.
During our conversation, his passion for the mission of AFA and what it means to people impacted by Alzheimer’s disease was quite apparent. Fuschillo started by telling us about AFA, its founder, and their many activities and capabilities.
“When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can be both frightening and overwhelming. Like many journeys, the hardest step is the first one—where do you start?”
AFA can be that first step—a place to turn for education, information and resources. AFA’s national toll-free helpline (866-232-8484) is staffed by licensed social workers, specifically trained in dementia care, who answer questions and provide support and referrals to local resources throughout the country.
AFA was founded 15 years ago by Bert E. Brodsky, a businessman and philanthropist who personally experienced the devastating effects of this disease after his mother was diagnosed in 1980. As a caregiver, Bert thought he was doing everything right, and while he was certainly doing the best he could, at the time, there was little information about the disease and nowhere to turn for support. Today, AFA has exceeded any vision he had for the organization, now serving a network of more than 2,600 member organizations nationwide.
AFA’s members include assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, adult day centers, home health companies, law enforcement agencies, Area Agencies on Aging, and many more.
AFA’s signature program is the National Memory Screening Program, which provides free, confidential memory screenings to people nationwide. Screenings last about 10 minutes and consist of a series of questions and tasks designed to gauge memory, language and thinking skills. A screening is not a diagnosis of any particular condition, but if a person scores below the normal threshold, he will be referred to his physician for a full evaluation. What many people don’t realize is that there are a number of conditions—beside Alzheimer’ disease—that can cause memory issues. Vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, depression, sleep apnea and medication side effects are just a few of those conditions. A memory screening is a good first step in putting a person on the proper path to treatment.
AFA also offers dementia-specific training to healthcare professionals of all levels and disciplines, via “AFA Partners In Care: Supporting Individuals Living With Dementia.” The program, available on DVD, as well as through customizable in-person workshops has been recognized by both the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as a provider of continuing education contact hours for licensed social workers.
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Fuschillo what one thing did he want us to take away from our conversation regarding AFA.
“First and foremost we are about the here and now, if Alzheimer’s walks into your life, we’ll be here today and tomorrow, caregivers and family need to know they have support. We’ll keep looking forward; our competition is the disease itself.”
Fuschillo is also proud that AFA has earned Charity Navigator’s four-star rating—the highest rating awarded to a nonprofit. More than 85 percent of the monies raised by AFA goes directly into programs and services rather than administrative and marketing costs. In addition, when a donation is earmarked for research 100 percent of that donation is dedicated to research. AFA treats its donors with tremendous respect. Each is thanked with a personal note, most signed by Chuck himself. “When a person sits down in their kitchen to write a check, we can take the time to thank them properly and show our appreciation.”
AFA is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this year with the AFA Educating America national tour, featuring free educational conferences in 15 states across the country. You can support the work of the AFA by making a donation at a participating ATM or visiting their website.