When Kimberly Stephens’ mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, Kimberly and her family were devastated. But they refused to be defeated. In 2015, she and her family organized the team Sitty’s Angels and participated in the Heart of Alabama Walk to End Alzheimer’s hosted in Birmingham by the Alzheimer’s Association. Two years later, Kimberly became co-chair of the event and is now also involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy, helping promote legislation that benefits Alzheimer’s patients and their families. We are honored to introduce today’s FACE of Birmingham, Kimberly Stephens.
Tell us more about how you got involved with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
My mom has early onset Alzheimer’s. She is only 64. The diagnosis came in 2014. My aunt also got a diagnosis the same year. She passed away this year. At first, we were hiding my mom’s disease. We were trying to protect her from the whispers. But in 2015, I saw this walk was happening, and I said we should do it together as a family. There are four colors that you can hold up during the walk. A blue flower means you have Alzheimer’s. There’s a picture of my mother and aunt holding the blue flowers at the walk. That, to us, was letting everyone know in our subtle little way but at the same time trying to give back. It was better to do something than to just sit back while this was happening. We’ve got to be proactive. My mother would be doing the same thing.
In 2016, we did the walk again, and then they asked me to chair for 2017. I said yes — if I could get my friend Michelle Lorino to do it with me. I really would have never taken this challenge on without her. And I do this alongside my cousins, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles. Everybody helps out. Half of my family is on the committee, and they do an awesome job.
You also recently got involved in advocacy work. Why was this important to you?
In January, the director of public policy and programs approached me and asked, “Are you interested in advocacy? We’re working on this bill with Representative Laura Hall from Huntsville.” I said, “You’re talking Chinese to me, but I’ll go.” So in February, I went with her, our executive director and the director of development to this Alzheimer’s Association advocacy day in Montgomery.
The Silver Alert Bill, which passed, states that any missing person with Alzheimer’s or dementia (regardless of age) will be looked for immediately, and the law enforcement agencies across the state will take the caregiver’s word for it.
Then, they asked me to go to Washington, DC for another Alzheimer’s advocacy day. Over 1,500 people across the country came and talked to their state representatives to get NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding for Alzheimer’s and the BOLD (Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s) Act. The BOLD Act basically states that Alzheimer’s is a national epidemic. If they don’t recognize it as that, then we can’t make certain public health infrastructure to handle it.
What are some misconceptions people have about Alzheimer’s?
That it only happens to old people. That it’s not fatal. But Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with this disease. Over 5.5 million Americans have this disease and about 92,000 in Alabama.
What are the fundraising goals for this year’s Heart of Alabama Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Birmingham?
Last year, we broke a record and raised over $230,000, and we had about 1,200 walkers. This year our goal is $260,000. The money raised helps local chapter resources and it goes to research.
What are some of the resources provided by local chapters?
They provide support, they provide education training, and then we have our fundraisers, of which the walk is the largest.
We have table events. We go to events like the CahaBAZAAR at Cahaba Brewery and Market at the Pizitz, and we set up a table of information and try to get people to register for the walk, and tell them about the association — who we are and what we do. At the last market, I had two people come up and discreetly say they had a family member with Alzheimer’s.
When my mom got her diagnosis, we walked out with nothing. So our chapter, we’ve partnered with neurologists at UAB so when they do give a diagnosis, they give a referral packet to us. We have one-on-one care consultations with patients and their families.
What are some ways people can help the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association?
They can participate in the walk. They can participate in TrialMatch programs. They can volunteer with the chapter. Help us spread the word.
People always ask, “How can I help?” And I say, “How much time do you have a week?” And let’s say someone says two hours. I’ll go get them some posters or signs and I’ll say, “Can you put these up in your neighborhood? Can you send 10 emails out, emails to your friends and say register for the walk?” I ask people to like and share our Facebook walk page all the time because I’m finding out how much social media can have an impact.
What do you do when you’re not raising money and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association?
I work in the family business managing commercial properties. And my dad has a construction business, so I help him there, too. I love listening to live bands especially at places like Saturn and Iron City. And I went to Sloss Fest. I do stuff at St. Elias for the Lebanese Food Festival. I do the silent auction for that. And I help with the teacup raffle for the St. Elias Ladies’ Altar Society bingo luncheon. All of that money goes to orphanages in Lebanon. My mom was really involved with this, and after she got sick she pulled me aside and said, “I need you to keep this going.” Thankfully, my cousins and sisters stepped up and help me do it.
I have the best family in the world, and we’re so big! I have 23 first cousins, and we are still so close to this day. Thank God. We need that support system.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in Birmingham?
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My grandfather used to always say, “This is not a crisis; this is only an event and this too shall pass.” And my mother used to say it all the time. It applies to everything. Give it up to God. What else are you going to do? Today is the tomorrow that worried you yesterday, and all is well. My grandmother had that in her house. So me and my sisters and brothers would say that to each other when all hell was hitting the fan.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Coffee. I tried to give up for Lent once, and I failed. I always have a notepad and pen with me, always. And I love music.
The Heart of Alabama Walk to End Alzheimer’s is set for Sunday, September 30, at Sloss Furnaces. Registration begins at 1 p.m. A special ceremony will be held at 3 p.m., and the 2-mile walk begins at 3:15 p.m. Learn more and register here.
Thank you for sharing with us, Kimberly! And thank you to Eric & Jamie Photography for the beautiful photos.
For more inspiring women in Birmingham, check out our FACES archive, and prepare to be amazed!