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Image credit: Dementia Foundation

Rianna Patterson: Starting out

Rianna Patterson: Starting out

"Dream big and live well"

Image above: Rianna Patterson, Founder of Dominica Dementia Foundation

How do you transform a personal tragedy into something positive? Queen’s Young Leader, Rianna Patterson explains why passion is key to finding your purpose in life.

My name is Rianna Patterson, Founder of Dominica Dementia Foundation.

After finishing college, I began to think about what I want to achieve in life. I knew a job alone would not satisfy my happiness. I wanted something bigger than that – something that will make an everlasting change and sustain even if I am no longer in this world.

I thought of starting an organisation but where do I begin? I had the challenge of preparing the organisation’s structure. What I would want it to look like, but most importantly what it would be about.

I did some deep reflecting of my life experiences and picked up one that affected me the most. The death of my grandfather was one that was a major block in my life. He passed away with dementia. He lived with me, along with my grandmother and mom.

Self Discovery

My grandfather started hallucinating and began living in his own world, a reality that changed every day. And while his thought changed, so did his body. His movement became slow and almost non-existent. He no longer responded or reacted to the environment around him.

I could not recognise my grandfather, neither could he remember me. He forgot who I was, his wife and kids. Every day was a day of hope and a day of fear. I would stay hours in the hospital. I saw people come and go, and some people never got better. I was the eyes and ears of the men’s ward.

Dementia Foundation team at work with one of the centenarians of Dominica. Image credit: Dementia Foundation

         Dementia Foundation team at work with one of the centenarians of Dominica. Image credit: Dementia Foundation.

I realised I wanted to create an organisation in memory of my grandfather. I wanted to raise awareness of dementia in Dominica and make a change in the lives of persons with dementia. I knew this is something I wanted to do and I had to do.

I designed the aims based on my personal experience, going through that difficult time in my life.

Challenge yourself

After I organised my thoughts and had the idea, I prepared myself mentally for what was to come. Because I had never been a person to take an initiative as big as this one, I became anxious when speaking in crowds and I realised that I would have to become my brand. I would have to change a few things about myself to actually make this work. Being the introvert I grew up to be, I knew I needed help with this one.

I joined North District Toastmasters to work on my public speaking. This helped me a lot. Now I have the necessary skills to speak about my brand. Do I have the expertise? An 18-year-old college graduate who never had a professional leadership role a day in her life? 

I took a course on Non-Profit Management at the University of New York, an online course which helped me prepare myself for managing this organisation.

Dementia team with Miss Dominica 2017. Image credit: Dementia Foundation

Dementia team with Miss Dominica 2017. Image credit: Dementia Foundation.

I was eager to learn and gain advice, but on the island there was no similar organisation advocating for dementia. I had to make contacts outside of Dominica. I began to realise the benefits of mentoring, networking and establishing partnerships with persons outside your circle.

Seek help

I spoke to persons I would never speak to on a normal basis. I sat on Skype business calls and sent several emails to businesses and organisations I found an interest in. I did not want to replicate any business. I wanted to build this organisation into what I wanted it to be.

Next was to get the necessary funding and support to launch this organisation. I went to several organisations to fund this project but they all declined. I reached out to my family to financially support this venture. My startup capital was just around $1,000.00 EC (East Caribbean Dollar)

I had to book the venue, prepare PowerPoint slides, refreshments, agendas and invitations etc. I had to prepare to present myself to the world as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Dominica Dementia Foundation on the 2 September 2016.

The day I started to believe in myself, is the day everything changed.

Make a difference

My advice to anyone on a journey to start an organisation is to think.

Think about everything – think of the sustainability, the losses and gains, the challenges and how you will overcome them.

I am aware that not everyone starts a business because of a personal experience. It could be because they want to solve an issue in their country, provide income for themselves and family members or they just want to be more independent.

Whatever the reason may be for starting, think of it as your passion or something you will not get tired of. Income can only sustain an organisation for so long. If it wasn’t for passion, my organisation would have failed.

When you are living your dream, you will know. It is a feeling that you cannot even describe fully.

Dream big and live well.

Rianna Patterson, the founder of Dominica Dementia Foundation

"Whatever the reason may be for starting, think of it as your passion or something you will not get tired of. Income can only sustain an organisation for so long. If it wasn’t for passion, my organisation would have failed."

Rianna Patterson