AS York announces the expansion of public education offerings

York Region

The Alzheimer Society of York Region (AS York)’s public education department is now “double the power.”

The new Active Living Team

Jennifer Barta, active living coordinator, Emily Justus, NEW public education coordinator and Jaime Cruz, Public Education and Community Programs Manager

The Alzheimer Society of York Region (AS York)’s public education department is now “double the power.”

That’s because there are now two people who can go out into the community to answer questions and teach people about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and living well.

Jaime Cruz, who was the only public education coordinator at AS York for seven years, is now the public education & community programs manager, overseeing Jennifer Barta, the active living coordinator who brings programming such as Minds in Motion, nature walks and tai chi to the community, and Emily Justus, the new public education coordinator, who began in April.

“I will still be providing education to the community,” said Jaime, who is a familiar face at street and health fairs. “I have had the opportunity to create such wonderful connections. I want to ensure people we can now support them with double the power.”

Emily comes to AS York from the University of Toronto where she completed her honours bachelor of science in human biology with a specialist in health and disease in 2023.

“I joined AS York because I want to share information as I believe knowledge is power,” Emily said. “I am passionate about answering questions, sharing new research, and connecting people with resources that can support them. My goal is to teach about Alzheimer's so that people don't need to fear having conversations about dementia.”

Emily’s day consists of creating gathering information and visiting community centres, libraries, retirement home and local businesses to share information.

What I love most is when I hear from someone that I taught them something new,” Emily said. “Whether it be talking about a program they didn't know existed, sharing a new fact about brain health, or changing how they think about Alzheimer's, I think it is the most rewarding part the job.”

Jaime agreed.

Providing education is providing people with power to understand what is happening and that there is support. Being a public education coordinator has provided me with such joy knowing that I have given people the opportunity to continue to have quality of life, that they understand that there is life after a diagnosis and that each person has a voice.”

While Jaime will continue to take part in public events, including the Aurora Street Festival, which she attended on June 3, her main public education focus is helping to create dementia friendly communities (DFC).

Dementia friendly communities is a program that educates community business on how they can provide a dementia-friendly environment, one that is welcoming, inclusive and supportive, Jaime said.

“In York Region we have over 17,000 individuals living with dementia. We want individuals to be independent and we want care partners to not be afraid to bring their family to the grocery store, library or place of worship. With DFC training, these businesses learn about the importance of being dementia friendly, how to communication and what to do if someone appears lost. DFC is an opportunity to eliminate the stigma that is unfortunately still so high that comes with a dementia diagnosis.”

During her sessions, where she trains 75 per cent of a business’ team, she discusses the types of dementia and symptoms of the disease. She talks about how to engage with people living with dementia and how to recognize if someone living with dementia needs help. She also discusses staff experience with dementia, and people living with the disease, and their fears.

“York Region is the fasted growing region with older adults,” Jaime said. “We want to be able to provide as much support and education as possible across the region. With the expansion we now have double the power to do this. We will be able to meet the needs of double the people in the region.”

Jaime said public education is so important, not just for people living with the fatal disease but their care partners and those in their care circle.

“Getting a diagnosis is frightening because of the unknown,” Jaime said. “We at AS York are here to guide you every step of the way. It’s about quality of life for the entire family. A diagnosis does not mean an end. It means learning how to adapt and to have a voice in what you want.

Emily agreed.

“Dementia will change things, but you can still have meaningful experiences. Getting a diagnosis means you can put a name to what you are experiencing, and you can connect with others in similar situations.”

AS York provides programs and services to help those impacted by dementia including three DAY programs, which offers cognitive and social stimulation for those living with dementia and respite for the family; active living programs in the community;  support groups; First Link Learning Series to educate those impacted by dementia each step of the way; and First Link, a program that connects individuals to AS York’s programs and other community services, Jaime said.

“AS York is here to guide each person.” Jaime said. “The Alzheimer Society of York Region is here for York Region.”

AS York’s recently expanded public education department is generously support by the Carswell Family Foundation.

Learn more about about the public education program at the Alzheimer Society of York Region or contact Jaime Cruz at [email protected] or call 905-726-3477, ext. 232