Our seniors can tell wonderful personal stories. This website, a sampling of works written by local seniors, contains the proof. This collection is the most tangible result of a larger project offered to older adults by the Saint John Free Public Library in Saint John, New Brunswick. Our province has a large and growing senior population. It is vital that older adults are able to contribute to our communities, both to benefit the communities and to add to our seniors’ sense of well being and usefulness. Older adults have much wisdom and knowledge to offer the community through their life stories, but often need encouragement and assistance to communicate them. Library staff developed a concept called “Sharing Our Stories: The Development of Emerging Writers Over Fifty, Using a Writer-in-Residence” which supports social participation and inclusion of seniors by helping them record and share their personal histories.
We turned to the New Horizons for Seniors Program, a federal government program that supports community-based projects that enable seniors to share their knowledge, skills and experiences, and help communities increase their capacity to address local issues by granting up to $25,000 for projects led and/or inspired by seniors. This program provides wonderful opportunities for libraries. The government accepted our grant proposal and we received $15,000 to be spent between April 2016 and March 2017.
The library’s Older Adults’ Council, a committee of older adults that advises on and advocates for library services for seniors, was enlisted to hire and work with a Writer-in- Residence and library staff work on projects, activities and events that would attract and serve seniors who wanted to write and share their stories.
We were fortunate to find the perfect candidate as our writer-in-residence, Cathy Fynn. Her primary role was to assist seniors to develop writing skills through personal mentoring and group sessions, and so enable them to develop and share their writing both with their peers and with the community. She also organized a series of free writing workshops and author readings open to the general public.
Some participants were already seasoned writers who appreciated the chance to polish their skills. Others were at the very start of their writing path, and were nurtured throughout the project. Everyone responded with commitment and active participation. The concrete result is this book, a collection of many of the stories and poems written over the course of the project by workshop and mentoring participants. We also solicited contributions from the community at large, which responded with enthusiasm. Some of the pieces stand alone. Some are excerpts from larger planned autobiographies. Our writers range from 50-something to 93 years young. Many of them have found writing their life stories to be very therapeutic. The topics and styles are as varied as the writers, but they are all honest, personal, interesting and moving.
Along with those stories and poems featured in the book, more can be found on this website, an on-line story archive that will be maintained by the library. We encourage writers aged 50+ to continue contributing stories to the website.
The book and web site will preserve these stories for current readers and future generations, while adding to local cultural and historical resources.
Ultimately, the legacy of the “Sharing Our Stories” project extends beyond a validation of these writers’ individual stories and memories to inspire new writers, to increase the public’s appreciation of the potential cultural achievements and contributions of seniors, and remind us that expressing our creativity is a life-long endeavour that enriches our lives and our culture.
Now, please settle back and enjoy these amazing stories.
Former Head of YA-Adult Services,
Saint John Free Public Library