The 2020 pandemic caused many Arkansans to branch out and try new jobs and hobbies. This series will help readers better understand a day in the life of certain career fields based on an interview with someone in that field.
For this segment of “A Day In the Life,” Arkansas Money & Politics sits down with David Cook, Senior Public Policy Manager at the Alzheimer’s Association. He has been in this position for nearly five years.
How did you end up working in this position?
I’d been in grassroots advocacy for over 10 years with the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, but I started working at the Alzheimer’s Association around five years ago because I have a personal connection with it. I lost a grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and my father suffers from dementia. So knowing that I’m doing this to help my loved ones and others who suffer from Alzheimer’s makes the hard days easier.
What does a normal day look like for you in this position?
Now that session’s in, we have committee meetings during the week, and right now, I’m at the Capitol Mondays through Thursdays. I work on policy development and lining up cosponsors for my priority bills. In addition, I’m doing outreach with congressional offices around the state for our advocates to meet with our members and share our stories, which creates a priority for our disease here in Little Rock and Washington.
What are some skills that someones might need to be good at this job?
Working in Government Affairs requires the ability to build relationships and effectively communicate the issues that are most important to you. To be effective, it is important to have good written and verbal communication skills, perform data and policy analysis, and present issues in a way that are easy to understand. One of the other skillsets that have proven to be effective in my career experience is that ability to organize and empower people to use their voices to impact change at every level of government. Lawmakers care deeply about their constituents and want to know how issues are impacting the people that they serve.
What are some life lessons or realizations about people or society or in general that you’ve had while in this position, if any?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that regardless of the political climate and the political shift, the voice of the people still has the power to influence outcomes. I know this because a good chunk of my work is working with people who have been devastated by this disease, and creating opportunities for them to share their stories with all politicians and all levels of power.
One of the other lessons I’ve learned is that regardless of who you are or who you vote for, Alzheimer’s impacts everyone everywhere. It’s such a prevalent issue, and of course, here in Arkansas, we have a variety of challenges that we’re working to improve to change the effectiveness of the response to this disease, and we can see the state responding to our issues. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of work to do, but it shows that things have been working and are encouraging going forward.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in doing the kind of work that you do?
If someone is interested in pursuing a career in public service, I would encourage them to get involved at the local level. Tip Oneil, former Speaker of the U.S. House is credited with the phrase, “all politics is local.” Get involved in your local community. Attend city council, quorum court and school board meetings. Share your story and personal experience with elected officials, and most importantly, remember that your voice has power.
What are some of your immediate goals in this position?
We’re focused on creating a Dementia Services Coordinator position within the state government, as well as revamping dementia recognition training around certain professions, such as law enforcement and assisted living. We are seeking funding from the department of human services to fund a Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Respite grant. Our pilot program has been incredibly successful, but we’ve learned who hasn’t been able to access grant funding. The Delta and rural Arkansas are mostly underserved, so we have access issues in those parts of the state that we need to overcome. We have to expand access to those services that people desperately need.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
It can be difficult to navigate the challenges of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, the Association is here to support families. In addition to policy work, we have a 24-hour, 365-day hotline that people can call at 1-800-272-3900. We also invite everyone to join us at the Capitol on Feb. 15 at 11:30 for our Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Day.
READ ALSO: A DAY IN THE LIFE: MADISON HEDRICK, SENIOR MEDICAL WRITER