Seniors at the OMI Senior Center gathered today to watch video highlights from the life stories recorded as part of the Golden Voices Project.  Some of the life stories were dramatic!  Others were funny and thoughtful.  All were very inspirational in their own way.

Event photos:

seniors sharing life storiesseniors watching life stories dvd

Imagine moving by yourself to a foreign country not speaking the language, as a teen no less.  Or, having such a big family that there are great grandchildren you haven’t met.  We also heard some touching, yet horrifying stories about life in the Philippines during World War II.  I have studied World War II in my history classes, but real life learning is so different.  1) it’s so vivid and personal when you hear the stories of someone who was actually there, and 2) the voice and stories of civilians / residents often give you a different perspective about the impact the war had on them, their families, and their community.

We also had a discussion today about the value of sharing life stories.  The Golden Voices participants were champions of the idea, of course, but I was glad to see other seniors in the room also nodding their heads in agreement.

The one part of the event that brought the biggest smiles — when the seniors received their personalized DVDs.  It made all the hours of work worthwhile.

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We’ll be uploading select clips onto the famento site soon so that you can enjoy these stories too.

Special thanks to Patty and Sharon at OMI Senior Center for hosting this series of Golden Voices classes.

Canon Kip Senior Center life story class wraps up

We just finished the life story class at the Canon Kip Senior Center as part of the Golden Voices Project.  It was such a treat to meet, listen to and record the stories of the seniors that participated.  What an energetic group!  There was so much to talk about that the 1.5 hour class each week never seemed like enough time.  The seniors shared stories about growing up in the Philippines, becoming a professor, childhood chores, striving for and achieving the dreams of becoming a world class gemologist, religion, family… see, it was always a lively discussion! 

We’re now deep in the midst of making personalized life story DVDs for the seniors.  We will have a community event at the Canon Kip Senior Center to share these stories, so stay posted for more info!  The event will likely be in mid July.

Here are some photo highlights from the class.

Many thanks to Canon Kip Senior Center for hosting us, and to Lolita and Josephine, in particular, for their help in scheduling and making sure things ran smoothly.

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Life story classes to start at Canon Kip Senior Center

We’re excited to start the next Golden Voices life story class at the Canon Kip Senior Center.  Earlier this week I met with some seniors at the center to tell them about the class.  Stories about personal experiences during World War 2, changes in the Hunter’s Point area of San Francisco, and tracing personal ancestry to French nobility were just some of the ones that were shared.  We can’t wait to hear more of the details and record these seniors’ stories!

Details on the upcoming classes:

Location:  Canon Kip Senior Center
Dates:  4 Wednesdays, May 13, May 20, May 27, & June 3
Time:  10:00 am -11:30 am

All seniors are welcome to join us!

Aging gracefully: photos of seniors

We were lucky to have award winning photographer, Mi Zhou, take portrait photos of the seniors who recently participated in our life story classes at the Castro Senior Center. As they say, photos speak a thousand words…or maybe just one word: AMAZING.

If you’re among the many people who’ve always wanted to write your own memoir, record your life stories, or maybe interview your family members, here are some ideas for questions that can help you organize your thoughts.

Your Lineage
o Where does your family come from?
o When, why and how did you and/or your family come to the USA?
o What brought you to this city/town?
o What family traditions do you keep alive?
o What do you cherish most about your family?

Childhood and School Days
o Where were you born?
o Do you have any siblings?
o Describe a typical school day.
o Did you get into any mischief?
o How did world events affect your childhood?
o What were your favorite hobbies and activities?
o How did you and your family celebrate holidays?
o Describe the first time you fell in love.
o What lessons did you learn as a child growing up?
o What were your childhood dreams?

Early Adulthood
o Describe your dating years.
o Have you had a life partner?
o When and how did you meet your spouse or partner?
o When did you get engaged? How did he or she propose?
o What kind of career did you want? What career did you choose?
o Describe your college years or life after elementary or high school.
o Who did you look up to? Who was your role model?
o Who is your best friend? How did you meet?
o Describe your wedding, if you married or had a civil union – how it came about, who was there, how you felt, etc.
o If you have children, describe the joys and challenges of becoming a parent.

Middle Age
o Describe what it was like to raise your children or your relationship with your family.
o What did you achieve in your career?
o What friendships did you form?
o Did you do any traveling?
o What cultural movements or world events affected your life?
o What traditions did you create with your family?

Growing Older
o How is the world the same or different now than when you were a child?
o How is your neighborhood same or different?
o What are your favorite hobbies and activities now?
o If you have grandchildren, describe the joys and challenges of becoming a grandparent.

o What are the turning points in your life? What were the surprises and results?
o Which of your accomplishments gives you the greatest satisfaction?
o If you could pick three things for others to learn from your life, what would they be?
o What traditions or values do you want to see passed on to future generations?
o If you could change one thing in your life or the world, what would it be?

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Importance of Sharing Life Stories

An article in the New York Times today, “Family Stories as Secret Text for Immigrants” reminded me that we can’t say this enough to friends and family around us: 

Your life story is important.  Please take the time to record it.

It seems that everyone I’ve talked to who’s done interviews with relatives, parents or grandparents always learn something about that person or their family that they didn’t know before, valuable information that could easily have been hidden if we didn’t ask.  I’m glad there are educators who are integrating life stories into their assignments.

Here’s a video from our partner, Angela Zusman, about this very subject.

Last Wednesday, we completed our second week of a four-week life story class at the OMI Senior Center.  I can’t even begin to describe how inspired I felt when I left the class that morning.  It was so amazing to hear the stories that the seniors were sharing — life in the Philippines during World War II when Japan invaded; moving to England alone at fifteen years old not knowing any English; home and family that the church provided; and more.  It was not only educational for me, it was also an important reminder that life has so many possibilities.  I’m excited that this Wednesday, we’ll actually start recording some of these stories on video.  We’ll share more video highlights over the next month.

In the meantime, here are some pics from our class last week:

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We gathered with a group of seniors today at the Castro Senior Center for a community event to celebrate with three seniors, whose stories were videotaped as part of the Golden Voices life story class.

The audience smiled as photo highlights of travels to Egypt, pictures of ballet performances, and baby pictures of the life story class participants were shown on screen. Short video clips told stories of the seniors meeting her husband for the first time after his return from the Pacific Theater, lessons learned from a distinguished career as a professional ballet dancer, and being inspired by world travels to become an actor. Here’s a shortened version of the video:

Watching the videos spurred the seniors to ask the students more questions. As one attendee said, “You might sit near one of them and never know that they have these fascinating stories. We sometimes don’t think to ask.” Betty Trooper-Naftaly, one of the students in the class, added: “I’m glad I’m doing this. It’s a great way to pass down our stories to future generations.”

We couldn’t have said it better.  We at Famento developed this project to celebrate the life stories of seniors in our community. It was really exciting to see the energy and smiling faces in the room.  It sounded like a conversation that just started.

We look forward to having some of the seniors join us in one of our future classes.

Special thanks to the Castro Senior Center for hosting the class and our event, our co-sponsor San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services, Gold Partner Cypress Lawn, and Mi Zhou who graciously volunteered to take portrait photos of our life story class students.

Some photo highlights from the event:

life story class students castro senior center event

life story event

friends chatting at life stories event

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chatting at life stories event

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Seniors Life Story Classes at OMI Senior Center

We’ve finalized the details for the next Golden Voices life story classes.  If you or your senior friends live in San Francicso and can join us, we’d love to see you:

Dates:          Wednesdays, March 4-25, 2009
Time:           9 am – 10:30 am
Location:   OMI Senior Center (1948 Ocean Ave.)

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Life story classes coming to a senior center near you

Over the last several months, we’ve been busy developing a new program.  I’m very excited to tell you about the Golden Voices project that we’ve launched in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services.  Our main goal is to encourage all seniors to share and record their life stories. We’ll be leading life story classes across different senior centers in San Francisco.  The life stories that will come out of these classes will be shared in community events, a citywide public exhibit, and also added to the San Francisco Public Library’s archive.

In fact, we just completed our first series of classes at the Castro Senior Center, and it was a success!

Photo sharing

Sharing life story

Written story

It was a fun and educational experience for me as I got to learn about the journey of being one of the first males as a professional classic ballet dancer, traveling through Europe and Egypt in the late 1940s, and going to college as a woman in the 50s.

I want to thank our participants for their encouraging feedback:

“[I enjoyed] …the relaxed method you used to make everyone comfortable about talking about their life experience.”

“It would be great to be able to extend the number of meetings so more periods of our lives could be covered.”

We’re busy editing the videos from the first series of classes, but we’ll definitely share some of the highlights when they’re ready.

For those of you who are in the San Francisco area on March 9, 2009, please join us for a free community sharing event where we will unveil the video highlights from the class.  You will also get a chance to hear some of the amazing life stories from the participants first hand!

We also have an extra treat for all the seniors who attend this event — get a free portrait picture taken by award winning photographer, Zhou Mi. (CORRECTION:  We will only be taking portrait photos of the students from the class.)

Community Event:  March 9, 2009, 10:30am – 11:30am, Castro Senior Center (110 Diamond Street)

Don’t miss the event!  We’re counting on your support.

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