Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP) resulted from a planning process that lasted about two years. In 2010, the Basic Needs Giving Partnership (BNGP) of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (CFFVR) appointed an Aging Task Force to study needs of older adults in our communities. The task force determined that people living with dementia and their care partners lacked opportunities for social interaction and engagement in the community. They also identified the need for prompt, thorough, early diagnoses for people worried about memory loss and other cognitive challenges as well as the need for community education about dementia.

A planning grant funded by the BNGP and the Helen Bader Foundation (HBF; now Bader Philanthropies) supported a community breakfast and think tank in October, 2011. Concerned individuals and professionals participated in a discussion to identify areas of impact most needed to improve the quality of life for people affected by dementia. Guided by this input, representatives from various agencies and organizations formed a Steering Committee to give momentum and vision to the mission to address these areas of need.

With major, multi-year grants from the BNGP and HBF received in spring, 2012, as well as support from the Appleton Downtown Rotary Club and several donor advised funds at the CFFVR,the Steering Committee hired staff, engaged volunteers, informed the public of its goals, and set on a path to create a dementia-friendly community that cares, engages, respects and supports those experiencing dementia and their loved ones.

Betty Lefebvre-Hill became our first Program Director (part-time) in September, 2012, and by November, we launched our memory cafés. The first was held at Atlas Waterfront Café; another began at the Thompson Community Center. Many talks to local community groups plus articles in the Appleton Post Crescentspread the word about our efforts. Whereas sometimes memory cafés in other communities begin slowly with just a few courageous people willing to take the risk of checking out this new type of program, people in our region responded quickly and enthusiastically to the opportunities for social interaction offered by the memory cafés.

Betty Lefebvre-Hill came to us from Madison where she had directed a program that provided outings for older adults. She was the perfect person to begin our cherished tradition of offering four major all-day bus trips every year for people with dementia and their care partners. Now, Brianna Jenkins, our Program Coordinator, organizes these trips in addition to “meet-ups” at local restaurants, concert and play dress rehearsals, and other events in our community.

The Memory Loss Resource Center began in 2013, followed by the launch of the Memory Assessment Center at MOSAIC Family Health. We wanted to have various support programs like the cafés and resource center in place first so that if and when people received a dementia diagnosis, we could offer hope and reassurance that the community cares about them.

For about seven years, FVMP was a program of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. After identifying growth opportunities through a strategic planning process, in April, 2018, we hired our first full-time Executive Director and in August, 2018, we received approval as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Soon after that, we relocated our offices to the campus of Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin.

We continue to offer community education events for the public and for the professional community, as well as outreach and support to long term care facilities. Through our Purple Angel Dementia Awareness program, we offer training for businesses and organizations in how best to respond to clients and customers having dementia.

In addition to its comprehensive memory assessments, MOSAIC Family Health works with patients’ primary care providers to share information. They also offer in-home caregiver support and coaching for those caring for persons with significant memory loss through the REACH program (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health).

We are proud of what we have accomplished in our brief history and continue to look for new partners, funders, and volunteers to help us change the culture in the Fox Valley to be more inclusive and respectful of those who live with dementia.