In Sheffield, Massachusetts, students and older adults gathered at the Sheffield Senior Center to celebrate and present their Senior Life History Projects to friends and family. The Senior Life History Project, developed by Community Health Programs in Berkshire County, is a unique program bringing generations together to learn about each other in order to create a Senior Life History Scrapbook detailing the older adult’s life.
The program matches middle school students in a weekly, three-month long mentoring relationship with an older adult. Each student spends their time working toward creating a Senior Life History Scrapbook for their older adult mentor by interviewing the older adult and learning about their life through stories, pictures, and cherished mementos. There are many benefits to the program for both the older adult and student but the underlying benefit is the relationship built between the two generations.
In many ways both the students and the older adults were surprised at what they learned about one another. Some of the students had never spoken to an older adult besides their grandparents before and were happy they had the opportunity. One student commented, “Every day we have the chance to share ourselves with those who are different from us but still each day few do.” The students had the chance to travel back in time with the older adult and learn what they had accomplished at different stages in their lives. One older adult was a former model for Lucky Strike. Another was a model for Norman Rockwell. One student said, “It was so interesting to learn about other times and different experiences, and it was also good to know that there are still similarities.” It is clear that through the Senior Life History Project, these relationships will undoubtedly have a lasting effect.
The experience is also meaningful for the older adults participating as it is a chance to retell their life stories. One man commented, “Having the opportunity to participate in the Senior Life History Project has enabled me to answer questions about my own life. It was a role reversal and it was awesome.” For one senior it took convincing to get him into the program. He said, “I have nothing to offer.” After working with his student, he felt a change and had something to look forward to every week. He is now mentoring young people in carpentry.
The Senior Life History Project is a great way for older adults and young people to meet each other in meaningful and transformative ways. The long-term effects of these relationships continue beyond the project proving that Community Health Programs is changing the perception of aging and the ability to connect generations.
This story was published originally in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s September 12, 2012 newsletter.