At this writing, I am in sunny and hot Orlando, Fla.  Before I left, a friend of mine told me Orlando is her favorite city but she wouldn't visit here in the summer. I can see why. The temperatures have been in the upper 90s with heat indices well over 100.

I am here for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association's 33rd Biennial National Convention.  We are just into four days of meetings, so I don't think I will be spending much time outside in the heat.

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There are many active and retired federal employees living in Howard County, and there are a number of members of the Howard County NARFE Chapter here as delegates. So, I hope my non-federal employee and retiree readers won't mind my covering at least the first two days of this convention because this is my current focus — what's on my mind right now.

National President Joseph Beaudoin told attendees at the convention orientation session, "NARFE is at a critical crossroads. ... If we continue trying to do business as usual, NARFE will cease to exist in a very few years. However, if we start the process of changing the way we operate, NARFE could be around for another 93-plus years." NARFE is at a pivotal point in its long history and the focus of this convention is its future.

Jane Rodgers, Chair of the NARFE Alzheimer's National Committee, reported that NARFE is very close to its goal of raising $11 million for Alzheimer's research by 2014. There is only $23,812 to go. With confidence that this goal would be met this year, NARFE adopted a new goal of raising $12 million by 2016. Rodgers' committee approved $439,931 to fund three more research projects. This brings to 63 the number of projects NARFE donations have funded since 1985.

Convention goers heard from Amy Shives, who at age 53 was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Her mother had also shown signs of the disease in her early 50s. While her mother turned angry and isolated herself, Shives is working for a cure for the next generation by being a part of the research, which she hopes will bring about a medical breakthrough.

As a wife and mother and a professional counselor at a community college in Spokane, Wash., when the symptoms first occurred, Shives noted that she struggled to perform her work duties and started not to trust herself. After a year of tests, she was told the devastating news of her diagnosis in 2011.

She said, "The diagnosis came with no treatment to slow the disease. My general health was declining; my mind was failing and our plans for the future were erased."

Her career ended before retirement. She has found a new purpose in life, one in which she is a participant in clinical studies on Alzheimer's disease at the University of California San Francisco. She gladly undergoes MRIs, PET scans, spinal taps, and cognitive and genetic testing, with her eye on her goal of a world without Alzheimer's. Shives plans to donate her brain to science.

U.S. Rep. Allan Grayson, D-Fla., visited the convention body on day two. He stressed that he believes there is a serious misperception about federal employees among the public and in the media. He said that government employees work hard, are paid less and need to fight back against this misunderstanding. He mentioned legislation he plans to introduce, which he called the "Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act." It would provide coverage under Medicare for glasses, hearing aids and dental work.

It was heartwarming to hear that one of the delegates to the convention is age 101!

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