Now in its 8th year, I remember year one as if it was yesterday. one of my favorite Brunswick Sweet Readers stories was about Mary and Charlie. Mary was a reluctant resident at a local home and was struggling to find the value in her life. When I interviewed her for the program, she was stuck in a repetitive loop, saying, emphatically, “I can’t work with kids, I can’t remember a thing. I’m worthless.” The more she repeated it, the more I insisted she give it a try. I wasn’t able to get her out of the loop, but after a few minutes with 8th Grade Sweet Reader Charlie, Mary forgot she had any cognitive impairment and comfortably remembered her role as a teacher, mother and grandmother and Charlie was the center of her universe. When it was time for the Sweet Readers to head back to school, I didn’t want to break up their conversation, so I asked Mary if she would consider coming back next week and her enthusiastic reply was “of course!”.
For a few years, I drove out to Greenwich, Stanford or Darian almost every week to watch Brunswick Sweet Readers engage with their adult partners. I watched scores of older adults feel valued and empowered by these boys who were polite and also interested and genuine. The boys were and continue to be part of a seasoned community. What I think influences and inspires them as much as or perhaps even more than their peers is the camaraderie and care demonstrated consistently by their team of advisors who are invaluable partners in this work. I asked Kevin Landesman, who has been part of that team of Sweet Readers Facilitators for 8 years, three questions:
1. One of the strengths of the Brunswick -Sweet Readers partnership is the strength of your team of 8th grade advisors which has felt so bonded and consistent over the years, even with staffing changes. It feels like you are all partners. Could you share with us your perspective of being part of that team and some of the positive aspects of the advisory and Sweet Readers partnerships?
The Brunswick Sweet Readers facilitators are most certainly a team. We are all in this together! This commonly shared experience has made us closer personally and professionally. We are able to bounce ideas off each other whenever we need to and can share challenges and problem solve together week to week. When new teachers have joined the teaching team at the 8th grade level, they too have bought into the Sweet Readers mission and culture. Most importantly, it feels like a Sweet Readers community at Brunswick rather than an isolated activity for just my individual advisory group.
2. Our mission is to empower young people to see beyond the masks of aging and Alzheimer’s and become catalysts of change. Could you possibly share a story of empowerment you have witnessed in the programs as a result of the partnership between a Brunswick Sweet Reader and an adult participant?
Year after year this program gives a voice to some of our more introverted Brunswick boys who at the flip of a switch transform themselves into outgoing Sweet Readers stars. These boys seem to know the perfect questions to ask to discover the person behind the disease and motivate the other boys around them to do the same. This year in particular, they have made the most of a challenging situation and have still managed to develop relationships with their elder partners.
3. Do you think you are making a difference by being part of this partnership of bridged communities? Tangentially, how has facilitating the programs impacted you personally?
Being a Sweet Readers facilitator has made an enormous impact on me personally. It has renewed my passion for community service and the quest from my younger years to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It has also impacted my view of the elderly and inspired me to enhance the quality of life of my own elder family members, some of whom have already become impacted by Alzheimer’s. Above all, Sweet Readers has taken me outside of my own comfort zone as an educator, and in the process, has proven to me that I am capable of leading discussions and lessons the scope of which go way beyond just mathematics.