ST. PETER’S: A project in Richmond County is connecting the past, present and future in a way that only sharing stories can.
“The Villa Vignettes” project brought seniors who live at the Richmond Villa in St. Peter’s together with students from Richmond Education Centre/Academy. The seniors were asked to share their stories with the students, who would then write and illustrate a book based upon one of the stories.
Dawn Ostrem, project coordinator for the Mind-Body-Spirit grant program administered by the Dr. Kingston Memorial Community Health Centre in L’Ardoise, said the aim of the inter-generational project is to help keep the seniors socially engaged.
“Social isolation makes seniors’ health very poor so a lot of our programs are about trying to get seniors out and about and taking part in really meaningful programs,” Ostrem said.
In fact, a 2010 study concluded that prolonged social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, in addition to the quality of life factor.
The students arrived by bus from the Louisdale school once a week for three consecutive weeks and asked the seniors to tell stories from their youth. By the second visit, they reached a comfort level that allowed for more detail.
“By the third visit, they were pretty good friends, so I think those three visits in a row was really good for the seniors because they build a relationship over time,” Ostrem said last week as the completed books were presented and read aloud at the Richmond Villa.
“They also talked about more than what they had for lunch, they shared memories and experiences and, in the end, as you can see right now, they’re actually holding a tangible book,” Ostrem said, gesturing to three tables where the students and seniors were wrapping up a shared meal.
The stories involve memories of baseball glory, fishing excursions, sewing projects, and holiday recollections.
Richmond Villa resident Anna Doupe, the subject of “Anna and the Chocolate Factory” said she was pleased with the re-telling of her story and her time with the students.
“It makes me feel good, you know, they pay attention to me. I’m an old lady but they do, and I think it’s just lovely the way they treat me,” she said, holding hands with one of the students and smiling at the others.
“I enjoyed it so much. I loved it. They’re beautiful kids.”
The project resulted in 12 completed books, copies of which will be distributed to the school library at Richmond Education Centre/Academy, the Eastern Counties Regional Library, the Richmond Villa, and of course, the residents and students who participated.