AARP Eye Center
Gini Cunningham has been selected to receive the 2015 AARP Nevada Andrus Award for Community Service – the organization’s most prestigious state volunteer award. The award recognizes Cunningham's dedicated, inspiring service as a volunteer leader, both in her home community of Winnemucca and throughout the state.
Described in her nomination as “a gentle soul, who can roar like a lion when needed,” Cunningham has for nearly a decade provided both direct support and a strong voice for family caregivers in rural Nevada. Her efforts have sparked legislation and agency work to address health care gaps and improve caregiver resources, created valuable and beloved community events to raise both awareness and funds, and developed and trained a mighty group of volunteers who provide a variety of caregiving services to neighbors in need.
Gini draws from her own experience as family caregiver for her mother and sister, who both suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease, to assist others in providing care to their loved ones. Since retiring in 2006 after a 31-year teaching career, she has supported the work of the Northern Nevada Alzheimer’s Association as a caregiver support group facilitator in Winnemucca, and as both member and chair for the association’s Policy and Advocacy Committee. She has also served on several legislative task forces related to Alzheimer’s and dementia, regularly commuting three hours each direction between Winnemucca and Carson City for meetings. Her work has resulted in legislation to improve conditions for persons with dementia, including expanding the role of nurse practitioners in rural Nevada, and expanding respite and other supports for caregivers.
To help inspire and involve others in the cause of caregiving, Gini has also developed community activities which shine a spotlight on caregivers and their trials, but in fun and engaging ways that involve people of all ages. Efforts like the “Tie One On” bowtie contest held annually at a high school basketball game and a Thanksgiving “Turkey Trot” run/walk event have not only raised funds for caregiver education, assistance and respite, but also raised awareness among thousands in attendance. She also arranged a “Music and Memory” program providing iPods and personalized music playlists to residents of the Harmony Manor nursing care facility in Winnemucca. Gini was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Humboldt General Hospital auxiliary to establish the program, which aids memory, reduces agitation and assists with pain management.
Working on these community events and initiatives has helped Gini develop a strong volunteer team ready to help with the cause of caregiving in countless ways – including providing direct services like transportation to those who need assistance. Knowing that access to care and service gaps are of particular concern in rural areas, Gini fights for training and resources to make these volunteers ever more knowledgeable and effective as caregivers.
An educator by trade, Gini has authored three books to assist caregivers: “Love, Diginity and Alzheimer’s: A Journey of Lessons and Learning,” “The Caregiver’s Diary and Daily Calendar,” and “Memories Companion,” which she distributes free of charge at Alzheimer’s Association and family caregiver conferences. She also continues to mentor teachers in rural Nevada, helping with lesson plans and strategies, and offering encouragement to first-time teachers.
“Gini Cunningham’s work has touched thousands of lives – bringing resources, support and connection to family caregivers, and inspiring residents of all ages to step up and help neighbors in need,” said AARP Nevada State President Mary Liveratti. “Her commitment to volunteerism, public service and building a strong community exemplifies the spirit of the Andrus Award.”
Named for AARP’s founder and first volunteer, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, the Andrus Award for Community Service was established to recognize exceptional volunteers who have made communities better, and that inspire others to volunteer. The Andrus Award was presented to Gini Cunningham at AARP Nevada’s annual volunteer recognition ceremonies in October.