Storytelling, Connections, keep it simple, Deliver and Have fun. Raising funds should never feel hard. Do not misunderstand it is hard work and relentlessly tiring. I tell all my mentees that if it feels hard its wrong. You should feel like the work whether it’s an event or campaign should sell itself, otherwise go back to the drawing board.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eleonora Tornatore-Mikesh.
With nearly two decades of experience in senior living and health care, Eleonora Tornatore-Mikesh has revolutionized long-term care, residential living, and memory care centers throughout her illustrious career. As a former CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Connecticut Chapter, Mrs. Tornatore-Mikesh achieved remarkable milestones during her 7.5 years at the helm. Under her transformative leadership, she more than doubled the organization’s revenue and spearheaded statewide dementia training initiatives that reached over 140 facilities, all in collaboration with the Department of Labor.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Iwas born in Italy and came to this country when I was six years old. I have had the pleasure of returning to Italy and other countries and witness the difference that elders are treated and viewed in society. In other countries, elders are respected and typically honored as the head of household. In this country, aging is viewed very differently. I knew early on in high school that this was going to be my passion and mission in my career.
I began working in hospitals as a candy striper and volunteering in nursing facilities on weekends and after school. The feeling every time I entered or visited a resident was indescribable, the pure joy that these age adults expressed was enough for me. I began to talk to as many health care professionals as I could and learned that memory impairment was becoming more prevalent in our country and nationwide. So, after high school, I decided to major in psychology and sociology for my undergraduate, and for graduate and postgraduate, gerontology and thanatology. Ironically, in the early 2000’s that same passion led me to a research internship at CaringKind, and I have now done a complete full circle and took a position as their CEO, it is surreal and a true privilege and honor to continue the same passion to advocate for so many family caregivers and individuals with the disease.
I pursued a career in Alzheimer’s and caregiving because I realized how crucial it was to provide support, education, and resources for those affected by the disease and their families. Furthermore, I felt that raising awareness about Alzheimer’s advocating for research and promoting a greater understanding of the condition would contribute to creating a more compassionate informed society.
As I progressed in my career, I continuously sought opportunities to educate myself, collaborate with professionals in the field, and actively engage with caregiver communities. My commitment to this cause has only grown stronger over the years, and I am privileged to be able to help make a meaningful difference in the lives of those facing Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
Bringing volunteers and empowering them is my biggest gift and joy. One example is in CT I started a program called “Women’s Champions” woman throughout the state came together to have lunch, photoshoot and were the billboard inspirations that caregivers are mainly women, and they wore boxing gloves because they are strong, fierce and relentless. This became and annual program and grew to over 1000 members and 6 different classes.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
The most interesting discovery I made as a CEO is making sure that you are never the smartest person in the room. My success has been because I surround myself with the most passionate, kind, and smart individuals that want to save the world. These are individuals that are selfless and put clients first. These are individuals that believe we can make things better, one person at a time. The challenges of making sure that the talent around you beats to the same drum. I am completely energetic, optimistic, and ready for a marathon to help families and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and I need the team around me to be at that same pace. Our families dealing with this disease unfortunately do not get a break from the disease, as it could last over a decade for many. So, our work is relentless, and our work doesn’t stop until one day this disease no longer exists. That type of passion doesn’t reside for everyone, so the challenge is making sure the talent around you supports that.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
CaringKind is an amazing organization dedicated to helping those who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
The mission of CaringKind is to create deliver and promote comprehensive and compassionate care and support services for individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research.
CaringKind* is New York City’s leading expert on Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving. With over 40 years of experience, we work directly with our community partners to develop the information, tools, and training to support individuals and families affected by dementia.
We offer a Helpline (646) 744–2900 staffed with Dementia Specialists; individual and family consultations; a vast network of support groups; education programs; early-stage services and a wanderer’s safety program.
We believe in the power of caregiving and seek a world where everyone dealing with dementia has the support they need, when they need it.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
What fuels my passion for this cause more than any other is the profound impact we have on the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias at CaringKind. Our mission revolves around enhancing the quality of life through a range of services, including support groups, educational programs, and personalized counseling. Knowing that our work directly improves people’s lives is what motivates me every morning.
The CaringKind team is another wellspring of inspiration for me. I am surrounded by dedicated individuals who share a deep passion for their work and a genuine commitment to making a meaningful difference. Witnessing their unwavering dedication and tireless efforts propels me to continue pushing boundaries and striving for excellence.
My personal experiences have also played a significant role in shaping my dedication and drive. I have personally faced the challenges of caregiving for someone with dementia, and these experiences have amplified my passion for advocacy and my desire to support others navigating similar situations.
In essence, I consider myself fortunate to work in a field where I can be an impactful leader. I envision a future where conversations about aging and brain health are not confined to a specific age group, and this vision propels me forward every day.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
I am blessed to say I have had the privilege to work with thousands of families throughout my 24 years career and the one that always stands out the most is the person with the disease.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
Volunteering in late life may protect the brain and is linked with better scores on tests of cognitive function. Helping you help us is my way of living…. for the better good.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”
Storytelling, Connections, keep it simple, Deliver and Have fun.
Raising funds should never feel hard. Do not misunderstand it is hard work and relentlessly tiring. I tell all my mentees that if it feels hard its wrong. You should feel like the work whether it’s an event or campaign should sell itself, otherwise go back to the drawing board.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
No, it has fueled that we need to help more people and do more we are not doing enough to make people feel less isolated, loved educated and supported.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I attend as many thought leadership programs and classes with likeminded people throughout the year.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Ginge Cabrera, she taught me Alzheimer’s is a family affair and to get it right you need to turn pain into passion. I live my life from words that family/friends/volunteers/ leaders/ have shared and it fuels me to keep going and raising more for our cause until one day there is no Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.