Connecting with Clients at the Point of Diagnosis
January 7, 2015
Meet Jennifer Gillies, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington
Jennifer Gillies was inspired to work with and for persons living with disabilities after experiencing a temporary medical condition which necessitated the use of a wheelchair for mobility. While this experience brought forth challenges related to accessibility, she ultimately was amazed by the willingness of others to create spaces of inclusion and compassion, and this motivated her to give back to this cause.
Her university career enabled her to delve into issues related to human rights, inclusion, and civic participation. Jennifer earned two Master’s degrees in Recreation and Leisure Studies from University of Waterloo, and Critical Disability Studies from York University. She also earned a PhD from the University of Waterloo. “My research program focused on working collaboratively with community stakeholders to create systems and communities that are inclusive and welcoming to persons with disabilities.”
Jennifer worked for seven years at the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program (MAREP) at the University of Waterloo in various positions, including Acting Associate Director of Research. In this capacity, she was involved in numerous research projects that sought to improve the quality of life of persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, along with their formal and informal care partners.
In keeping with her passion, Jennifer joined the Alzheimer Society in 2012 as Executive Director for the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge Society, and is now the Executive Director for the newly amalgamated Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington. “What was great about the amalgamation is that it was voluntary and being driven by the Board. They saw the opportunity to come together to better support our clients,” says Jennifer.
On the benefits of the amalgamation, she states, “We now have enhanced programs and services for the benefit of our residents. As a result, we are serving more residents. Also, our teams have different skill sets and backgrounds and so, we have been able to increase our capacity and level of expertise.”
The Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN) provides a portion of the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington’s funding. The WWLHIN Board made a decision in December 2013 to support the integration of the three societies.
One of the innovative ways residents are receiving better care is through Memory Clinics. “We are currently in 10 Memory Clinics which are a great way for us to connect with clients right at the beginning of their journey, at the point of diagnosis. Doing so, has really changed the face of what we do, we are no longer just a crisis service but we are strategically able to respond to the growing demand and the changing needs of our service. “
On reducing stigma about Alzheimer and related dementias, Jennifer says: “January is always a time to reaffirm to people that dementia is widely prevalent and by raising awareness, we help to reduce stigma and when we help to reduce stigma, we help people to get an early diagnosis.”
Jennifer who was born in Quebec, moved to the Brampton area as a young child, and grew up in Guelph, has a history of volunteerism within the community including serving as a Board member for the Learning Disabilities Association of Kitchener-Waterloo, and Bright Starts Cooperative Early Childhood Education. She has served on various committees such as the City of Waterloo’s Mayor’s Advisory Committee for an Age Friendly Community.
Jennifer who relocated to Waterloo in 2000, is a proud mother of two young children, and has a supportive husband, Trevor. She spends most of her free time with her immediate and extended family. Jennifer loves to eat tasty foods (especially chocolate), listen to music, and dance in the kitchen with her kids.
For more information:
Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington
Telephone: 519-742-8518 Extension 2014