An Indian farmer who dearly misses the cows he once tended decades ago and an ocean away. A starlet who sang jingles on the radio and dropped out of high school to tour the country with a band. An American spy who was tasked with getting a picture of the underbelly of a Soviet tank in Moscow during the May Day Parade in 1978.
These were subjects of award-winning essays by high school and college students in the inaugural Humans of Dementia writing contest sponsored by Hilarity for Charity, a national Alzheimer’s organization founded by Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen.
The winners of the intergenerational storytelling contest were celebrated on Thursday evening in a Zoom call with leaders from participating organizations. Excerpts from the winning entries were read aloud by actor Seth Rogen. His wife, an actress and caregiver advocate, thanked the student writers for speaking out.
“When we tell stories we connect and we feel seen and we feel heard,” Miller Rogen said during the virtual awards ceremony. “For me, my journey with Alzheimer’s with my mom really changed when I…started sharing my story. Then I felt like I could do something, and I had a power over something that made me feel powerless.”
Many of the young writers said they were inspired to tell the story of a grandparent, a great-grandparent or a family friend. Richelle Matarazzo, a student at the University of Georgia, wrote about a couple she got to know while volunteering at an organization that works to end social isolation for older adults.
Matarazzo said writing the essay helped bring closure to an important relationship in her life. She also wants to destigmatize a disease many fear by showcasing the fullness of people’s lives in spite of their diagnosis.
“I got to know them on a deeper level and I got to say goodbye,” she said. “I wanted to let the world know about them.”
The contest was cosponsored by MemoryWell and other organizations that support caregivers and older adults, including AARP, Generations United, and USAgainstAlzheimer’s. The National Scholastic Press Association and Associated Collegiate Press were also sponsors.
The contest launched last fall and drew entries from across the United States and Canada. The challenge was to use storytelling to profile a loved one who is living with or who has died from Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. Entries were judged in two rounds by a panel of teachers, professors, journalists, and professional writers. Winners were announced on May 11th.
Another contest is planned for next year. Anyone interested in the 2021 Humans of Dementia contest can sign up for updates at: https://wearehfc.org/humansofdementia/.
Read the winning essays.
High School Category:
1st Place: Amaya Turner – Abington High School, Abington, MA
2nd Place: Rashi Ranjan – Leland High School, San Jose, CA
3rd Place: Maya Benjamin – Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, Cambridge, MA
Honorable Mention: Jasiah Washington – Mount Paran Christian School, Kennesaw, GA
Honorable Mention: Amber McComb – Smithtown High School East, Saint James, NY
1st Place: Katie Allred – Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
2nd Place: Richelle Matarazzo – University of Georgia, Roswell, GA
3rd Place: Madeline Corradi – University of Toronto, Toronto, CA
Honorable Mention: Natalie Sinak – Xavier University, St. Louis, MO
Honorable Mention: Hank Montgomery – University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, NC