Column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Some make enormous sacrifices, such as the emergency responders and civilians who did what they could to help others on 9/11. Some are everyday heroes who quietly go about their lives doing small things that make a big difference in the lives of those they touch. Maybe it’s a small donation to a charitable organization, holding the door for a stranger, or simply exchanging a smile with someone who needs it. What they all share is a uniquely American blend of optimism, determination, and refusal to take “no” for an answer. It is the spirit of all of our heroes that defines the best of what it means to be an American.
One of those heroes is Max Wallack, age 16, of Natick, Massachusetts. Max attends Boston University Academy, where he excels in his academic studies and in his extra-curricular activities. Max is a budding inventor and starting at the young age of seven, he won numerous competitions and awards with his clever, innovative entries.
I have written frequently about the way older adults get stereotyped. But teenagers also get stereotyped, sometimes as difficult, lazy, irresponsible and more. Contrary to the stereotype, there are many extraordinary young adults who are intelligent, high-achieving and compassionate beyond their years.
Like many teenagers, Max knows the pain of seeing a beloved older relative suffer with the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. He watched his great-grandmother Gertrude Finkelstein deteriorate before passing away in 2007. Among his very first inventions at the age of seven was a portable step with a handle that allowed his great-grandmother to get in and out of a van unassisted and a seat attached to her cane for shopping.
Max has spent thousands of hours volunteering, including doing research on the enzymes that may have the possibility of helping to identify Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages. He has decided to pursue a career as a Geriatric Psychiatrist, helping Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, both clinically and through research.
At the tender age of 13, Max the inventor started a nonprofit organization called Puzzles To Remember. Like many brilliant ideas, this one is simple. Max learned that working with puzzles could help a person with Alzheimer’s delay and relieve the symptoms of dementia. It also gives the individual and their family, friends and caregivers a positive activity to do together.
Max started asking people to donate new or good condition used puzzles. He then turned around and distributed them to nursing homes in his community. Puzzles started pouring in. He says, “Ideas can begin very small. Even small acts of kindness can build into something huge and meaningful.”
Commendably, Puzzles To Remember has distributed 14,805 puzzles to over 1480 Alzheimer’s caregiving facilities in all 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico, England, and Colombia. Max has made presentations about Puzzles to Remember to service clubs and schools, and been featured on television including a series on PBS.
He has also been featured on AlzheimersReadingRoom.com, which is where I learned about Max’s amazing work. Imagine my surprise to find out Max is also an editor of this well respected website and frequently writes articles for it.
I am not the only one impressed with Max. He has won numerous awards for his work. Frequently they come with cash prizes, which he then donates to the Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center to help fund research.
Max is driven to work with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. During one spring break, Max volunteered at a Veterans Administration hospital working with Alzheimer’s and other neurologically-impaired patients. When Max was honored for his work by the Nestle “Very Best In Youth” Award, this is what Max said about his experience: “These are my heroes. I find it sad that these men and women, who sacrificed so much for our country, now cannot even remember their great deeds. It is of utmost importance to me to provide as much relief as possible to this population.”
Max says, “In addition to pursuing my own passions, I feel it is important to encourage other young people to become involved in philanthropy and give back to society. No one is too young to make a difference.”
In a world in need of heroes, please be Max’s hero and support Puzzles To Remember with your donation of puzzles or monetary support to help him fund his organization and research to find treatment and a cure for this horror called Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more at www.puzzlestoremember.com