Image may contain: 1 person, smilingThis week’s Hometown Hero is Lorenzo Mejia, founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County. This non-profit organization works to raise awareness and improve the lives of people with dementia and those who care for them. Through this program, Mejia promotes the Dementia Friendly Business Initiative, which gives businesses free training on how to properly cater to customers who are living with dementia.

“The Dementia Friendly program is an opportunity for businesses to get free training and an understanding of what dementia is, how to recognize it, and some strategies for dealing with it in people who walk through their door,” said Mejia.

Lorenzo and his wife took care of his mother when she was diagnosed with dementia about 20 years ago. He explains that, through this experience, he learned of the need to raise awareness for those who are learning to live with symptoms of dementia. Everyday activities, such as swiping a credit card at a convenience store, can prove to be frustrating or challenging for those with dementia. He feels it is imperative that businesses learn how they best can aid these customers and how they can make their experiences less difficult.

“I saw that she’d go into a restaurant or place of business, she’d fumble with payment, and the sales people would laugh,” said Mejia. “It would make me angry, and it just hurt her and frustrated her.”

The East Chapel Hill Rotary Club provided seed funding for the initiative, and additional support came from the Department on Aging. The program consists of a 20-25 minute video and an hour for question and answer where business owners and employees can gain professional knowledge on the subject. Thanks to the initiative and Mejia’s efforts, over 800 individuals within 75 different business have completed the training and are utilizing their newfound skills in their everyday operations.