Sweet Readers began with the heartwarming interaction between three generations of women, determined to make the most of a challenging situation. In 2010, Sophie’s Grandma Dorothy (GD) had recently moved into the city from the suburbs with an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. GD and her husband Ray had read to their daughter Karen when she was a child, becoming the characters in the books and bringing new life to old favorites like “Caps for Sale” and “Goodnight Moon”. Karen did the same for her daughter Sophie and in 2010, at age 10, Sophie became the lead reader, bringing new life to reading picture books, her own poetry and works of art from local museums, first to GD and then to GD and 15 adult clients in GD’s social adult day program.
The day program had become something of a lab for young Sophie who experimented with different ways of engaging the adults with poetry, movement, art and even music. The process was filled with wonder and joy and Sophie regularly and literally skipped out of GD’s day program buzzing with excitement at the impact she was having.
Karen found the impact on both Sophie and all of the adults in the program so powerful, she brought in a geriatrician to observe to see if any child could have this much empowerment and success. Karen was advised to watch how Sophie was engaging and build a training program around her interactions.
So Karen and Sophie brought together artists, art educators, poets, writers, Sophie’s drama teacher and classmates who became the founding Sweet Readers, GD, her activities director, geriatrician and the other adults in her day program and developed a training program and our first pilot at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) in April, 2011.
“The folks from MoMA came to observe and within six months we had piloted Sweet Readers at AFAM, MoMA, The Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C., The Jewish Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The art educators at each of those institutions, already committed to engaging adults with Alzheimer’s through the arts, became generous collaborators and helped us to develop our core curricula and methodology.
We learned early on the power of community building and bringing three generations of stakeholders together for the greatest impact. From the start, we gained support from nearly all of our participants’ families, partnered with several schools, and tested our training model in urban and suburban settings, with students from diverse cultures and socioeconomics, including students with learning differences. We were also able to include and impact a diverse range of adult participants, living with early to moderate Alzheimer’s, by partnering with national residences, local nursing homes and day programs and including adults who came to our programs from their own homes with their care partners.
We have started a movement for change and it continues to be palpable, even thrilling. We are so grateful for the generous support we continue to receive from families of both our Sweet Readers and Adult participants as well as all of our community partners.
Sophie and I feel wonderfully blessed that Grandma Dorothy was able to experience the love, purpose and joy of being surrounded by Sweet Readers and that we continue to be able to extend that love, purpose and joy to so many others.” – Karen Young, Co-Founder