Rianna Patterson BSc. (Hons) is the founder and CEO of the Dominica Dementia Foundation
Rianna Patterson, a Dominican youth who has been one of the country’s foremost advocates for dementia, graduated from the University of Kent with a BSc. (Hons) in Psychology in 2022.
After Rianna graduated with an Associate Degree in Psychology at the Dominica State College, she used her gap year to launch the Dominica Dementia Foundation before going on to university to pursue a Psychology Degree (BSc.) in 2017. She was 18 at the time. Rianna is also a Dementia Friend Champion, a recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders award and Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work.
- What prompted you to found this charity?I started the foundation after the passing of my grandfather (Terry Vidal) with dementia . I wanted to create an organization that supports people with dementia and their families in Dominica. I also wanted to contribute to the quality of care in Dominica, as well as facilitate research towards dementia. This is important to equip family members with the skills and knowledge to take care of their loved ones, pursue further professional support.
- What were the first steps that you took?
I started building a business plan and registered the charity in Dominica. I also expanded my knowledge on dementia by building relationships with regional and international Alzheimer’s networks and organizations. I sought professional support from senior advisors in my network.I worked on my own personal development by joining the Northern District Toastmasters in Dominica, a non-profit organization focused on helping people develop communication skills. I also built my knowledge on experiences on various components of an organization as I attended a course on charity management. I invited my former classmates from college to join me on the board of directors, as I wanted to create a youth-led organization.
- What were the challenges that you faced in setting up?
Funding was a major challenge when starting this foundation. After I established the objectives of the foundation and all the other groundworks required to run this organization; I began to approach investors, however I was unsuccessful. My first start-up capital came from my grandmother, which allowed me to launch the foundation officially.Most of the foundation’s operations were self-funded. This was quite difficult to maintain as I launched this organization shortly after graduating from college, securing my first job. We built our profile by running various initiatives, one being World Alzheimer’s Month in Dominica. Once we developed a portfolio of impact work, we explored alternative sources of funding, such as running fundraisers as well as seeking corporate sponsorships and donations.As we continue to be volunteer-led, this also poses challenges, as our work output depends on the availability of our members. During the early stages of the foundation, I started to feel burnt out because I took on the bulk of the work, by promoting our services and solidifying national relationships. We were a small team at the same time as well.
- How is the organization structured?
We now have a board of directors that comprises the president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and public relations officer. The student ambassador acts as a link between the charity and the Dominica State College. Trustees and advisors support the board of directors. Apart from the board, we also have volunteers who are members of the foundation.
- How does your organisation work?
We have a close relationship with care homes in Dominica to assist their carers and the services they offer. Our engagements include frequent care homes visits, where we spend time with their clients. We also work closely with the local government and we also partner NGOs to increase the awareness of dementia in local communities.The Dominica Dementia Foundation also has an initiative called the Dominica Dementia Friends Programme. Sessions help to create dementia advocates in Dominica. Our dementia support groups are where families of Dominican heritage and those who reside in Dominica can attend to seek emotional support. A licensed psychologist also facilitated these sessions.
- How do you identify your clients?
In most cases, our clients usually reach out to us for support. However, we do have 1:1 meetings with family members to have an indication of the level of support needed. We also have built relationships with various support services in Dominica if we need to sign-post families for further support. We work with people with dementia, their families as well as carers and care homes.
- What help are you able to give your clients?
We act as a resource for family members who need guidance in seeking support for their family members with dementia. Families can connect with each other through our support group network.. At these sessions, we encourage healthcare providers to offer advice to carers on how to look after their health, what to eat and how to deal with difficult situations. In some cases, we can also support the welfare of family members by purchasing prescribed medication for their family members.
- What are your hopes and plans for the future?
My hope is that we can make Dominica a Dementia friendly island by ensuring that dementia is a health priority in Dominica. This will involve continued dementia promotions and strong partnerships with local businesses and local government. I also hope for the continued sustainability of the foundation, that we can continue the youth-led work and carry out the objectives and mission of the foundation.
- Is there anything else you would like to say?
I am so proud of the work we have carried out over the last few years. It has truly been a heartwarming journey. Establishing the dementia charity was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve created something that benefits my community, that young people can also contribute to. We are truly making an intergenerational difference and creating bonds that transcend age.
Recently Rianna joined Walking the Talk for Dementia on the Camino De Santiago in Spain to walk 50 kilometres with people working, researching and living with Dementia from 30 different countries.
Rianna Patterson is currently fundraising to pursue a master’s degree in dementia at UCL September 2023, please support by using this link
Thank you Rianna, you are an inspiration to us all!