“She was telling us about her mother,” Delacruz said. “She was telling us how beautiful her mother was, and how much she loved her, talking about her like she was still here, and then I just saw her face drop and sink. She remembered that she wasn’t there anymore, that her mother had passed away.”
Seeing signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the grandmother inspired Delacruz to enter an art contest sponsored by the Act Now Foundation Alzheimer’s Resource Center of New Jersey. Delacruz, 16, placed first in the competition recently. She accepted a grand prize check of $300 at NBHS on Oct. 5.
Her picture will be used as the Act Now campaign logo for their 2018 brain health initiative. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes memory and behavioral problems, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. To date, it has no cure.
Two other North Bergen High School students, Victoria Raposo, 18, and Silviana Torres, 17, placed second and third in the contest. They took home $200 and $100, respectively. Act Now will use their entries on additional marketing materials.
The Act Now Foundation approached District Supervisor Susana Guasconi about having North Bergen High School art students create posters for the contest. The top 11 posters were displayed at the Brain Health and Wellness Fair at Braddock Park Sept. 23, out of around 75 posters. Visitors to the fair voted on the final winners.
The grandmother Delacruz was talking about was Betty Lou Cafiero, a former teacher’s aide in the North Bergen School District. Cafiero passed away in June.
“More and more, throughout the years, I would see those instances spike,” Delacruz, an aspiring fashion designer, said. “She started forgetting more and more. It hurt to watch that. She would think that her husband was still alive as well.”
Raposo, who is interested in a career as a tattoo artist, has a grandfather with Alzheimer’s who she wanted to honor by entering. “I personally don’t know him,” she said, “But I’m pretty sure he would enjoy someone creating art for him.”
Torres, unlike her peers, doesn’t have any family or friends who are dealing with Alzheimer’s. But discovering its effects moved her.
“When you do your art, if you have a thought behind it, you can make something that shows that you care about it,” she said.
“I don’t have any personal experience with Alzheimer’s, but I would understand that you have to relive those experiences that you forget, and that must be so horrible. I could never imagine that. And to have your family watch that, that’s like really sad.”
Torres said she wants an art career “that has an impact on people and can spread a message.”
Raposo’s entry features different heart-shaped candies feeding into a brain damaged by Alzheimer’s, an effort to “heal it.”
“These candies always have nice things on them,” Raposo said about her entry. “I feel like we should always remember to care for ourselves, that’s like a little reminder.”
For Torres, she drew an Alzheimer’s damaged brain growing from a stem of flowers. “When you take care of your body and your mind, and you nourish it, kind of like a flower, it begins to grow in the best state possible and be something beautiful,” she said.
Delacruz’s poster also continues the growing motif, showing a tree of flowers growing inside a person’s brain.
“The brain is a tree,” Delacruz said. “It’s kind of the same concept as Silviana’s, growing from the roots, but I put little ‘forgetmenots’ myosotis flowers in between the gaps of the brain, as if like, that’s where the Alzheimer’s is growing.”
The “forgetmenots” myosotis flowers are used as the Act Now’s official symbol, because of their name.
Every high school student must take an art or music course to graduate. “We have the serious artists, like these ladies,” said Guasconi. “And then you have the students who are in there because they just need it as a requirement for graduation. So it’s nice when we get to do something more special with our more serious artists.”
“Two-thirds of my day is drawing,” said Torres. “If I’m not at school, I’m at home drawing, all the time. With art, you can draw and it might not look like you want. You can spend so long drawing and not even notice it. You could have no social life.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org