Volunteer Work ...

Ilvene and Mark McDonald with Mark’s mother, Erma. Mark does volunteer work at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Mark McDonald has led a meaningful life. With dual Master’s Degrees from UCLA in Urban Planning and Latin American Studies, (he once lived in and owned a restaurant in Brazil), he is now in a Master’s program in Gerontology at USC, largely because of his volunteer work at the Alzheimer’s Association.

The three things he most wants people to know about the Alzheimer’s Association are that they are the largest non-profit, non-governmental funder of research for a cure; Association staff and leadership are smart, committed individuals he’s proud to work with (“that’s important for any volunteering activity,” he said); and there are many different ways to volunteer.

“It’s a staff/volunteer model,” McDonald says, “with a wide range of areas where help is needed. Not only in development, but educators, support group moderators and more.”

Among the ways the Imperial Beach resident has volunteered has been as a two-time chairperson for the “Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” a frequent participant in “The Longest Day,” the Alzheimer’s Association’s “create-your-own” annual fundraiser, and as Association Ambassador to State Senator Ben Hueso in Sacramento and Congressman Juan Vargas in Washington D.C.

Katie Croskrey, executive director or the Alzheimer’s Association’s San Diego/Imperial Chapter, has high praise for McDonald.

“Mark brings the drive and passion needed to be successful as a volunteer,” Croskrey says. “His family history (losing his mother to the disease on New Year’s Day in 2009) brought him to us, and his remarkable fortitude in the face of other challenges shows his commitment to the Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and other dementia.”

Regarding his mother, McDonald explains, “It was extremely difficult to watch someone we loved so much lose her cherished memories. My sister, Martha Dent, had the burden of being her caregiver, for which I am eternally grateful. My dad died a couple of years after that and I started getting this strong urge to volunteer and give back. After seeing a commercial about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s one day on TV, clarity set in. I started volunteering with the Walk, but more and more ways to help kept emerging. I’ve been a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association for more than seven years now.”

McDonald currently sits on the chapter’s Board of Directors, and volunteers with a number of other nonprofit organizations in San Diego County (including Rachel’s House, a women’s shelter, and Work Play Love, serving underprivileged children in developing countries). He is also on the Board of the San Diego Association of Insurance Professionals, where he serves as Community Action Chair.

He and his wife Ilvene, when not enjoying life in their home overlooking the Tijuana River Estuary, have been partners in much of their charitable work. “She is my biggest supporter,” McDonald says with a smile, acknowledging that some recent medical challenges have made it tough going at times.

“We are at our best and highest selves when we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, and being part of the mission to create a world without Alzheimer’s is one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life. Thanks to the Alzheimer’s Association for the opportunity to be involved, and to those thinking of becoming a volunteer, I’m grateful I made that call seven years ago just to find out what was available.”

Readers interested in volunteering in any way are encouraged to go to www.alz.org/sandiego or call the Alzheimer’s Association at 619-678-8332.

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