STORYTELLING IN COMMUNITY: WHAT I LEARNED AT SENIOR PLANET
When we share our stories in community, we can create a new story. We spark each other’s memories, and together we lead the way.
As a concierge with The History Project, I have the honor of working with people to curate their life stories. Recently, through The History Project’s partnership with Senior Planet, a center based in Manhattan that offers classes on technology to older adults, I led a series of digital storytelling workshops on Monday afternoons. The participants included artists, writers, dancers, musicians, and people in a wide range of fields. Some participants chose to tell the stories of their artistic careers; some chose to focus on family history; some chose to weave artistic and family histories together. Everyone had a story they were eager to tell.
As a concierge, I was there to teach the participants how to use THP’s platform to bring their treasured photos, artifacts, and media together in one gathering place. Just as importantly, I held the intention to support the process of remembering and curating the stories that resonated deeply for them.
Before we started learning the technology, we gathered together to tap into memories and share found treasures. For the first session, each participant had brought an object that held a special significance: a photo that had survived many winters; a dress that had been passed down through generations; a poem that contained measureless emotions. As the participants spoke about the objects, memories emerged through their words.
Then, something extraordinary started to happen: as they shared their own memories, others started to remember their own stories. The stories that highlighted each participant’s unique life also pointed toward the interconnectedness of their lives. One member shared about a dress that she had worn as a dancer, and that had been worn by generations of women in her family. As she shared, another participant remembered a dress that held great meaning for her. As the shares continued, memories sparked memories, and the participants created connections through their stories.
This meaningful start set the tone for the rest of the program. Over the course of the workshops, the participants continued to dig for the stories and life events that held richness. With a strong foundation of narrative intentions, we approached the technology as a tool to bring their histories to life. I watched with delight as the participants wove their personal histories. The photos, songs, videos, and artifacts they chose fit gracefully into their narratives. I saw participants compiling images of their own art; photos from performances; recordings of songs that had filled a childhood home; original writings. Throughout this process, it was an honor to offer support to the participants by leading them through the various features of the platform, addressing their questions, and working together to curate the material.
In our final session, I was reminded of the power of naming our truths in community. One participant, a talented writer, showed us how he used the audio feature of the platform to record his poems. He shared with us a poem he had written for his father, and as he spoke, I could feel the emotion resonating in the room. History is not static or linear; it continues to breathe over time. In this moment, it felt like we took a collective breath of gratitude to be on this journey together.
The program culminated with an exhibit at Senior Planet in early April — the participants spoke about their experiences, and shared their projects. Each participant had their project open on a computer, and family, friends, team members from Senior Planet and The History Project, as well as members of the wider community spent time exploring the projects. The participants’ living histories shone beautifully in the light.
While visiting at the exhibit with one of the participants, an artist and musician, she shared with me: “The wonderful thing about the class is that it gave me a feeling of self-confidence I didn’t have when I was younger. I didn’t realize how many things I did, and how many innovations I had done.” She, and indeed the entire group, taught me that when we take the time and care to honor our stories, they give back to us. They bring us together, and remind us who we are.
Thank you to Yumi Tomsha for contributing this article.
ABOUT THE HISTORY PROJECT
The History Project empowers families to connect artifacts and memories across media to build experiential stories that transcend generations. The History Project offers a set of mobile and online tools to intelligently collect, beautifully curate and delightfully collaborate in building your personal life story. Preserve and relive the memories that matter most through The History Project. For more details visit www.thehistoryproject.com.