When Maddie Cunningham was five years old, she started working towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Carrie, her great grandma started showing signs of dementia and Cunningham was moved to help.
Her first fundraising effort a simple a bake sale raised $200 for the Alzheimer’s Association. Cunningham’s great grandma passed away when she was seven years old, but her fundraising efforts continued.
At St. Bernadette Catholic School, she partnered with faculty to set up days where students could dress in casual clothes if they brought in one dollar as a donation to Alzheimer’s research. At one of her birthday parties, she asked friends to contribute donations instead of buying her gifts.
Cunningham’s entire life has been influenced by her great grandmother’s experience with dementia. She said her grandmother was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but their family has always thought that was the diagnosis.
“Alzheimer’s is one of the hardest things that a person can go through,” Cunningham said.
She stressed that Alzheimer’s Disease is also difficult for family and friends who have a loved one with the disease.
As she got older, Cunningham became more active in her support of Alzheimer’s research. As a senior in high school she attended the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C. for the first time. She met many people working towards the same goal as her.
“The world is so divided right now, so having 1500 people after the same goal as you is so uplifting,” Cunningham said.
Part of the forum involved talking to Congress members from Nebraska and helping them understand the need for Alzheimer’s research and gaining their support for the issue. Cunningham went to the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum four times.
Locally, Cunningham participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an annual walk in Omaha that raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association. Cunningham and her family and friends as Team Maddie have been in attended for 15 years.
She said she is “appreciative of all support and that it’s such a good feeling knowing people have your back.” This year’s walk raised $240 thousand and featured the highest attendance to date.
Cunningham is a Political Science major at UNO and plans on minoring in Leadership and Public Policy and Women’s and Gender Studies as well as earning a certification in Gerontology. As a college student with multiple jobs, free time is difficult to come by.
Due to this, most of her work with the Alzheimer’s Association is done online. She spreads awareness through social media and has raised over $1,200 online this year.
In the future, Cunningham plans to get her master’s degree in Healthcare Administration or Non-Profit Management and move to Chicago, where the Alzheimer’s Association headquarters is located. Ultimately, she wants to get her foot in the door and work her way up the organization.
What started as $200 at a bake sale has evolved to what Cunningham estimates to be $30,000 raised over the last 15 years.
“Life is all about connecting with people,” Cunningham said.