I first learned of Sweet Readers through my son’s school magazine six years ago. The article that I read, which included some detail about the training the students receive and the use of art as a medium to encourage communication between Sweet Readers and their elder partners, compelled me to contact them and ask about starting a program in my school.
We worked out the logistics and started Sweet Readers the following year, with wonderfully encouraging results. The compassion, empathy, and personal connections that were immediately evident in our students are no longer a “given” in interpersonal communications among our “digitzed” youth; the boys (it’s a boys’ school) enjoyed the interaction and what they learned about their partners so much that some of them visited on their own time. We are in our fifth year now, and we continue to see the benefits of the Sweet Readers experience: when a pair of boys cheers for their partner as he enters the room, when all the faces light up at the recognition of intergenerational friends, when boys who are now getting ready to graduate reflect upon their time as a Sweet Reader, we know the impact is real and lasting.
Personally, I am grateful that Sweet Readers allows me to feel that I can have a positive effect on so serious an issue as Alzheimer’s, small as it may be. Both of my children have been Sweet Readers, the older for one year, the younger for three. The first year, they had the same partner and would talk about her and her husband over dinner. My younger son once noticed an ambulance as we were driving by our site and expressed great concern about whether it was for someone we knew. I know that being Sweet Readers has provided them both with invaluable experience: overcoming the potentially uncomfortable, learning to listen attentively and with patience, and recognizing the value of every person behind the disease.