Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hazel (A Mighty Myth)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending TOMORROW? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Hazel showing off her reindeer ring! At our holiday party we discovered the cupcake decorations are little rings for kids, so naturally(!) the seniors each put one on ;)

Happy aaaalmost New Year everyone! This story may be the size of a pea but its breadth and human reach is so wide - a perfect inspiration for a new year. After Hazel read this story out loud, I was like, Oh! I have never had black eyed peas for New Year's! And all of them responded, Oh really? And I realized they see me as so totally one of them that they don't realize I am not black (most of them happen to be, just because our venue is downtown Philly), that in our group not only are we ageless but cultureless, which is kind of amazing.

Hazel Nurse
A Mighty Myth

As far back as I can remember, it might be when I was 3 years old (according to some experts, our memory extends to that time), at home New Year's Eve was a guaranteed time to enjoy my favorite dish, black-eyed peas.

Under firm supervision of my mother, all Christmas decorations had to be removed before the New Year came in. Also black-eyed peas must be boiling when the New Year came in so we would have good luck. The determination and belief that one must start the New Year humble so that it will end great remains. I observe these rules faithfully and will possibly be superstitious forever.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gloria (This Isn't Soul Food)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending 12/31? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Well, well, well, who ate too much last night? And is still gonna eat a few more big meals this week? What can I say? I am a skinny mini but I really like good food!

I’m thinking Gloria’s story about her love of food, and about her love of her mom, really, is perfect to get us all “filled up” and pumped for 2013.

My favorite line is when she said her mom “metaphorically traveled through her culinary explorations to France, Germany & Italy.” When Gloria read that out loud, I jumped up because that’s what I do too. Is that silly? When my husband and I get tacos, I say, “Off to Mexico!” When we get Pad Thai, I say, “We’re going to Thailand today!”

PS. In case you are a new reader to our blog (well, first, welcome and so glad you are here!!) our whole class calls Gloria “daughter” and Aileen “mommy,”  and they always come to class together sitting side by side, so when you read this story, picture that, or imagine you are Mommy “Aileen” hearing your daughter say all this about you, think of how proud that would make you to hear all this.

Gloria Washington
This Isn’t Soul Food

When I was growing up as a child of 6, 7, 8 and up through early adolescence, my sisters and I didn’t eat fired chicken, potato salad, macaroni & cheese or collard greens. We didn’t eat pigs feet or chitterlings. There was no corn bread. Instead my mother consulting her Good Housekeeping cookbook or NY Times Magazine recipes would step outside the boundaries. She metaphorically traveled through her culinary explorations to France, Germany & Italy. We had Quiche Lorraine before it was popular in the 80’s with the “in crowd.” On Saturdays for breakfast we had the deliciously tantalizing sweet breakfast cake, Georgia Sally Lund. Around the holidays I would sit patiently by her side as she assembled the ingredients and special pans for Buche de Noel. A decadent, rich, rolled chocolate cake that literally translates to Christmas Log. Other mornings I would awaken to the enticing scents of Panettone, the rich, Italian egg bread studded with dried citron we purchased especially at Strawbridses gourmet food court.

These transcendent offerings tantalized us. This is what we knew. This was our world, our mother, our repertoire for adventurous, delicious eating that gave us snapshots of other cultures through dining. There was more; chicken cacciatore, some American favorites, and ratatouille – the rich, garlicky eggplant mélange – long before the popular Disney movie of the same name came out. My sister and I never thought of this food as different. When we visited our friends homes and were offered standards of fried chicken and potato salad we took no offense. It was all good. Today I love a good potato salad, although I never make fried chicken (except for wings dusted with Chinese spice or doses of cayenne). I prefer roasted eggplant with edamame, Moroccan tangerines or a simple sirloin. That’s just who I am. I guess my mother’s love of languages: French, Italian, Russian & German contributed to her epicurean attitude.    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Helen (Is it Still Christmas?)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending REALLY, REALLY SOON? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

I thought this one would be a cute sequel after Helen’s story before… in case you are wondering about Helen’s comment about leaving her decorations up for a loooong time. Oh yeah, because, hey, why not ;)?

“Why not” is actually one my favorite questions in life ever, so that’s one reason I think this story is cool. Making your own tradition and embracing your own quirks is kind of fabulous, don’t you think? I also think this is cool because Helen is dressed in completely and complexly color-coordinated outfits with full accessories without fail every single week. She is literally beautiful and colorful inside and out. So when I picture the inside of her house, I am picturing her in it, dressed and jewelry clad in a mix of oranges, blues, pinks, with a bright orange-red lip to match, looking at it all, nodding to the music, smiling.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Helen H Lahr
Is it Still Christmas?

Why this question when everyone knows that Christmas was on the 25th of December?

I can ask because in recent years my family and I remove the outside decorations but we don’t touch those on the inside until after Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  This would never have been done years ago because this was not the custom.

Eventually I thought, “Why can’t I enjoy my decorations longer?”  Also, by the time that the holidays arrive, most of us are exhausted and it’s wonderful to sit down and relax enjoying my beautiful (or so I think ;)  decorations, including my ever-present manger scene.  All of this I experience accompanied by soft holiday music.  Can anyone ask for more?

On Tuesday I had a 5:30 appointment at home.  The sales person came in the foyer and the first thing he said was “Beautiful, I’m going to tell my wife to leave our decorations in place until Dr. MLK’s birthday.”

I felt good about that.  ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Tribute to Our Children, in Memory of Our Children

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending soon? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Today, a tribute to the unending brilliance of our children's souls in light of the lives lost in Newtown this past week. Helen wrote this story a few years ago and it takes on new meaning this week - even
when things seem hectic and confusing, our children's souls will see us through and create beauty when we least expect in the world. This is a photo of the impossibly bright December sun in Philly today. As I was walking down a narrow sidewalk, and the words of the post were forming in my head, I looked up and this is what I saw.

Helen H. Lahr
12/17/ 2009
Our First Christmas In Our New Home

We lived in a home where our children were born and grew up. Naturally, they grew up with other children on the block. When my husband and I moved in, other young couples did likewise. It was a lovely environment to rear children and they thrived.

Years later our sons had married and moved outside of the city and I had lost my husband. Our daughter and me were they only ones left in the house. Eventually we decided to relocate so we moved 27 miles away. The month was December, near Christmas time. You can imagine how hectic a time this was. Our home sold almost immediately and the people moved out of what was to be our new home, almost immediately. On the surface this would seem to be an ideal situation but in reality it was not. Packing, etcetera, had to be done right away. Finally everything was done and we were on our way to our new home.

Needless to say, boxes were everywhere. Members of the family wanted to see the house; even my son, who lived in New England, came down with his family. My grandchildren put the large Christmas tree together. When my children were growing up we always had a live Christmas tree; after the boys were married we purchased an artificial tree because we were to tired of dismantling the large tree, taking it down and cleaning up all the thistles from the carpet. I always kept my decorations up until Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

Getting back to the unpacking, the boxes were all over the place. We had labeled the contents of each of the boxes but when it came time to decorate the tree we couldn’t find the box with the ornaments. My grandchildren improvised and decorated with other bric-a-brac and the tree turned out looking cute. Anyway, since we were filled with holiday happiness it all seemed to be pretty.
Hope you feel as inspired by this story as I do.

All my best, Benita

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mr. Gordon (How to Start Talking)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending soon? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Everywhere I turn, it looks and smells and tastes and feels like the holiday season and I find years of holiday stories from my senior buds suddenly jumping up and down in my mind like, Remember Me?!

Well, hey there, oh yes I do!!! Cool thing about stories is that they never go out of style, they are relevant year after year. So for the next few blog posts, how about a walk down holiday drive on memory lane?

Here is Mr. Gordon telling us how to talk with our extended family at our next family gatherings. It was once of you who inspired this story ;) !! 26-year-old Rebecca L., after attending one of our senior storytelling events, wrote in to us:

Thank you so much for coming and sharing your life stories. I was so inspired! And also encouraged to get to know my family better. Do you have some suggestions for what questions I should start to ask them?  - Rebecca L.

After Mr. Gordon read the note, he dedicated this to Rebecca.

Arlin Gordon
How to Start Talking

A lot of times we know about our immediate families, but don’t know other family members, such as a father’s sister or cousins. The family members that you do know, begin to talk to them about other family members.

It can be done in a casual setting. It doesn’t have to be formal. Begin to search for different family pictures and look at them together at the holidays. The holidays are good time for learning about family history because people come together at this time of year.
Most families gather around certain days of the year. On these occasions, there is joy and people are more willing to talk.

You can start the conversation by asking, “Who else’s birthday is in August, January, etc…?” Then you can expand on the conversation.

Remember to document what you have learned.

There is also the Internet. You can find out a lot on the Internet- find lost connections.

Once you begin these conversations, stay in contact.

Hey you know what? Let’s all give Mr. Gordon’s suggestions a try!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hazel (The Tide)

Last Thursday, I walked back into the classroom after making some xeroxes (of our Give to Grow Page for our seniors to hand out to family) and gasped. Literally, I opened the door, froze, and gasped.

Here I was in my hands, heart, head, thinking and wanting and knowing that this project needs to grow in some larger-than-life way, and a few feet away from me that universe that I dream of is thriving. It is so alive.

I saw my senior buds Hazel giggling with Loretta at the corner of the classroom, they looked at me casually, like, Hey, what’s up! But knowingly as well, like yes, We know there is something special about this moment too.

OK how do I explain this.... There are all these nuances that I have built into my hour-ish (it turns into three with a lot of chatting and everyone helping out after!) every week with my senior buds. And one nuance is that while most of the group is reading and writing at the table, seniors who are blind or have arthritis or for one reason or another can’t write each go to a corner of the room, so they can tell their stories verbally, and a volunteer or myself can write their words down for them. This way the table remains quiet, and each senior can have their own mental space to really think and really put their hearts on paper.

Loretta, who has severe arthritis, came into class late that day – she had actually walked by me at the xerox machine a couple minutes ago and I told her I would be right there to help her write. So imagine my surprise when someone, not a “young” volunteer but one of my senior buds, was sitting and writing for Loretta already, when I opened the door. I mean, it was so beautiful. Tears filled my eyes while I stood there frozen.

Hazel said she had finished her own story earlier at home so she could write for Loretta - and I remember specifically that she didn't use the word “help.” She said something about how fabulous and fun Loretta is, that it is a privilege to be sitting with Loretta. No one claims to be “helping” anyone but everyone is helping everyone.

I know this project has changed lives in big ways, like a month ago, we told you how Loretta’s long lost family found her through this blog (click Here to reread that post).  But small moments like this to me are just as life-changing as well. Generosity. Friendship. Happiness. Identity. Wonder. Spontaneity. Surprise. Leadership. Service. I don’t know the right combination words for that moment. It was nothing but it was everything.

Hazel Nurse
The Tide

Yesterday, after seeing another display of tempting, fancy, French pastries, I decided to do as our old family saying goes—“Buck the tide.”

Years ago, and still today, purchasing expensive, highly decorated cake was not considered a wise thing to do since homemade goodies were always more tasty and less expensive.

However, I convinced myself to pay the price for a lemon pastry and a chocolate cupcake. They were the two cheapest items that I saw with a cost of nine dollars and fifty cents.

To my dismay, they tasted no better than any other baked goods. Now my curiosity was satisfied, but bucking the tide, one can drown.

This was a story that Hazel wrote a few months ago. After reading, she took out two boxes, each with a fancy pastry for the class. Just two small boxes. Just a small moment. But it was like, I don't know, like the story was the perfectly understated excuse to display a lot of love for the group.

I remember gasping that time too.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Read, Share, Support!

This is the birthday card my senior buds gave me a few months ago. It takes a leader to really dare to dream, to really believe that dreams can come true. This is how I know my senior buds themselves are officially and completely leaders of the world.

Last night I wrote an email to my amazing volunteer team - and realized I
I wanted to share the note with you all too. Why is that, I thought. And then it dawned me - you, our wonderful readers who are locking eyes with me right now on the screen, are part of our greater team.

So, Team, let's rock this holiday fund drive. It's not that we want to grow. We NEED to grow.  Lives depend on us.

$5. $10. A quick repost of this link on Facebook.

Your dollars and reposts are all it takes to change lives. All it takes.

Read on to see how exactly your donations will be used.

Hi Team,

Hope you all had a good holiday. Just want to thank those of you who have made a donation to the campaign and spread the word about it. I love seeing your donations, reposts and emails - it all just honestly makes me so happy.

This campaign will allow us to provide guidance to other people, so they can do what we've done at Philadelphia Senior Center and at test venues including our model satellite co-hosted with AARP and Free Library of Philadelphia. We will provide guidance through fun and easy-to-use web tools and face-to-face neighborhood-focused events. Some of us on the team have worked nights and days to map out the tools and the only thing we're missing is funding. As soon as we have funding, we can start building the tools and soon share them with the public. These tools will allow what we have done together to last well beyond our times, and reach seniors in every single family in this country.

So, please consider spreading the word, and donating, if you haven't yet:

Lives depend on us. We have something special. Today, like every Thursday, I was reminded of that when I saw the happiness and strength on our seniors' faces. If we simply share what we know, we can save lives.

As usual, thank you so much for every little and often not so little ;) thing you do, it adds up to something too beautiful for words.
All my best, Benita

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Holiday - Honor a Senior in Your Life!

Hi Readers,

Looking for a creative way to honor a special senior in your life this holiday, or give back to your own neighborhood? Inspired by the smiles you see here and want to bring these smiles to even more faces? I can't be more excited to tell you about our "Give to Grow" expansion campaign!

People everywhere are asking and waiting for us to grow; but we cannot without your help. Please visit to find out how to take our program to YOUR neighborhood and dedicate your donation to a special someone. Also, every donation level will be rewarded with a thank you gift!

Our goal this holiday season is to raise $18,000 by Dec 31. Besides donating, we would love it if you could share this letter and the donation link with your friends and family.

Feel free to contact me directly at if you would like to talk more about our plans. We have a full plan in place but to put it into action, we really need your help.

Thank you so much.

And now... two stories to get you right into the holiday spirit. A tribute to fathers and mothers everywhere, on behalf of "children" of all ages.

Jean McCallum
What I Wish I Told My Dad

I wish I had told my Dad – “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” Thank you, Dad.

While my Dad was alive, I was a real spoiled brat – ingrate – and I spent a lot of time complaining about my Dad, and criticizing his parenting style. In reality, my Dad taught me how to ride a bike, how to drive a car, how to do gymnastics, and many other things. He also paid for a lot of lessons; guitar lessons, horseback-riding, and many other things. Most of all, no matter what was happening in our lives, my Dad always showed me that he loved me, treasured me, and believed in me.

Even though my Dad is gone now, the love and appreciation he gave me live on in my heart and encourage me to this day.  I want to say, “Thank you, Dad!” 

Gloria Washington
The Grandchildren Remembered

“Ring! Ring!” The happy sound of unexpected good tidings, surprise.

“I have a delivery for Mrs. Jefferson!” I shoot to the door. What awaits me is a huge profusion of floral splendor. Yellow daisies, purple iris, magenta hued and pale-whisper-white flowers in an elegant basket, arranged to show a profusion of color, scent and texture to dazzle the eye. The next day a repeat phone rings. Flowers beckon. This time a pale, motley display of luxe, lush, hot-house pink roses, lily-of-the-valley, and baby’ breath.

“Read the card Mommy.” The 18 great grandchildren and 9 grandchildren remembered the matriarch. The mother that spawned 3 generations: helped them through college, paved the way, taught them healthy nutritional habits and generally served as a role model for all kith and kin. Happy Birthday Mommy from all the grands. 

Help us spread even more happiness and love in the world with heartwarming stories like these. Thank you again for visiting and sharing our campaign page

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Joe (Spectacle)

I am bursting with excitement here at my laptop typing this, because next week my team and I are about to announce something huge. (Sign up Here to get the scoop - whether you are someone who wants to start talking with a grandparent, or a professional looking to bring our program to your center, you won't want to miss out!!)

If my relationship with my amazing grandma is chapter 1, and our original class and blog is chapter 2, next week is when we turn the page to chapter 3. The Best Day of My Life So Far story was once my story, but now it’s all of ours whose eyes are meeting here on the screen, and soon it will be a story shared by so many more of us.

Ours is not just a story about older people, it’s not just a story about stories. Ours is a story about community – about unity of our social, cultural, generational, technological diversity. We have created this community in the most genuine, heartfelt way we know how, because with that comes real happiness, real humanity, real histories. Ours is a story that is big and brave enough to push back on the more difficult parts of life, things like isolation, depression, loneliness. Ours is a story that takes diverse memories of the past, turn them into something alive and united for the present, and give it like a giant gift pack to future generations.

Thank you for helping us create this community. And now, let’s make sure this community grow. Let’s help real happiness, real humanity, real histories spread. Help us turn the page to Chapter 3.

Joe Garrison

I was on a cross-town bus a couple of days ago to do some shopping. I got on the bus. There was a person on the bus. Clearly, people were staring at him—I could tell even though I can't see. People must have been looking because of how loud he was. He sounded like he must have been inebriated. He was talking about how lonely he was.
He was saying it was the worst thing in the world for a man to be lonely and how he wished the Lord would send him a woman. Finally he moved towards the front of the bus and I felt relieved that he was getting off, because I felt a little embarrassed for him.

I am lonely too but I don't get on buses and shout it to the world.

The point of the story is, it's good to express feelings, but not to the extent that you make a spectacle of yourself. That’s why I am grateful for this class because I can express my feelings, whether they are happy or sad. Here I can use stories to relieve any loneliness and depression that I have. It is a great thing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beatrice (The Little Something I Kept Over the Years)

Beatrice Newkirk - 12 kids: 7 boys, 5 girls. 57 grands. 27 great grands, 2 greats on the way.
Note to self: when I am old, I will be sassy like Beatrice.

Beatrice and Bernice, her twin sister, have been a part of this class since its beginnings – they have truly become two of my best friends. Bernice brings out the tomboy in me; and I tell myself that when I am old, one thing I will be is sassy like Beatrice. Beatrice reminds me a lot of my grandma too - because of the sassiness they share, I've always thought. But when Beatrice told us this story last week, I realize there is one more thing in common to the women whom I admire so much. The ones who carry the brightest smiles are the ones who have risen above the deepest pains.

Beatrice Newkirk
The Little Something I Kept Over the Years

The something I kept over the years is a picture of my mother. She did not raise me. My mother left home when I was 5.

She left 7 boys and 3 girls. My baby brother was 1 and my oldest brother was 12.

I found my mother on Market St. My brothers found her first. There were so many things I wanted to know about her, so many questions I wanted to ask her. I was married and I had my first kids. I took her home with me. She left. Back on the streets.

The next time I saw her she was in Byberry - it's a mental hospital. She stayed there 17 years. That is where she died. I never got one word out of her during that time. All I wanted her to say was my name. I was named after her. I don't even know her birthday.

So I have the picture of her I carry  with me every day.

This is what one of our copyeditors wrote after typing up this story. Jesse lives in North Carolina.
Wow, absolutely heartbreaking. After reading this I want to give Beatrice a great big hug. - Jesse Antoszyk
Jesse: I will be sure to tell Beatrice you wrote that, and I would be happy to give her a hug for you ;)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Every Day and Every One

The Best Day of My Life So Far Writing Class
Every Day

Every day is a birthday.
Every class is a party.
Everyone is a survivor of one thing or another.

My senior buds and I were just chilling out and chatting yesterday. We always chat a little at the beginning of class. And suddenly one word after the next, we strung together a phrase. And one phrase after the next, we strung together a poem. And soon it was like a cheering fest of everyone repeating these lines one after another, louder and louder.

“Our creed!” Hattie said.

“Something to go by!” Greta said.

“Whoa!” Everyone got on their feet, canes and all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Loretta Reunites with Her Family!!

HEY READERS! To get inspirational stories and videos delivered straight to you, don't forget to take a second to sign up Here for our free Story Letter! Look inside our recent issue - we hope you like it!

In the last couple blog posts, we peeked and laughed about our seniors' childhoods; now let's look and smile at the miracle that is present-tense real life. Here is a story whose beginning I shared Here a few weeks ago – but it turns out that the story’s twists and turns, and what is looking like a happy ending, are still unfolding right before our eyes…

On September 18, Loretta's daughter surprised me with a note. It read:

My name is Michelle Gaither and I'm looking for my mother, I think the woman may be her, if this is my mother can you please let her know that her daughters are looking for her and we love her very much!!!! P.S. The stories are wonderful, I love how you guys are helping our seniors.

I wanted to tell Loretta in person and in private – I told her before class on September 27. She told me God sent Michelle to the internet. The last time she had seen Michelle was when her daughter visited her at the homeless shelter, where Loretta returns to whenever her housing situations fall through. How long ago was that? I asked Loretta. She said she doesn’t remember.

Loretta told our senior buds in class. Everyone tells her it is a miracle.

Loretta borrowed my phone to make this video for Michelle:

Then, the week afterwards, a terrible coincidence happened -

Loretta got so sick (from previous colon cancer treatments) that she got rushed to the ER and had to stay for days, but then -  her family showed up! So a terrible thing became a blessing in disguise.

My senior buds and I were so overjoyed to see her back in class the next week. Guess what the title of her story is? That's right. Family Reunion.

Last week Loretta told me that she may be moving in with her daughter Michelle.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Norman (The Lousy Baseball Star)

And now, a story that just makes me so happy to read and reread. I hope it does the same for you too. A story about friendship, teamwork, baseball, a blaring sun and a few lucky stars.

Norman Cain
The Lousy Baseball Start

When I was around 14 years old I joined a baseball team, the name of which I’ve long since forgotten.

The majority of the guys on the team were a few years older than I, and almost to the man played either varsity or junior varsity baseball at their respective high schools.  That meant that the team was phenomenal… as baseball was the king of sports in 1957.

While the guys on the team were good, I was NOT.  Actually, I was terrible.  I couldn’t throw, field, or hit.  Most times during our games (at Belmont Plateau, off of 52nd Parkside in West Philadelphia), I kept the scorebook and handled the equipment.

I was terrible, but the guys did not tease or distance themselves from me.  They wanted me to be good.  Two incidents proved that to me.  Once when I was playing center field, a ball was hit in my direction.  When I looked into the sky at the ball, I was blinded by a blaring sun.  I placed my glove over my eyes.  And guess what?  The ball miraculously fell into my glove.  The guys were jumping, screaming, and hollering like we had won the world series.  They were happy for me.  I did not tell them that I was shielding myself from the sun.

The next incident—concerning me—that led to the team’s hysteria had to do with my hitting a home run, after having struck out each time that I was at bat during the season.  I may have been a lousy baseball player, but I received the cheers reserved for superstars.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mo (Payphones)

HEY READERS! Got a payphone story to share? Or just a good old phone story? Tell us about it on Facebook.

Check out the sunny, breezy Philly skies – ok that calls for a daydreamy story for today! Hey, so let’s talk payphones… remember those? Yeah, rock bands write metaphorical songs about them these days and our seniors write real-life stories about them too. It’s practically impossible, you know, not to imagine Adam Levine hanging out with our senior buds (yes I wish! Is that ok to say that here? Adam if you are reading this yes this is your official invite to our class…) and singing his hit song in our classroom, when Mo read his story out loud. I mean, payphones aren’t around anymore but boys calling girls – and all the hopes and dreams and emotions that go along with that – are here to stay ;)

Just in case you want some background music for Mo’s story, HERE is a link to Adam/Maroon 5’s playlist.

Mo McCooper

Some of us, like me, did not have telephones at home.  Others just did not want to be heard.  And so, there were pay telephones in most neighborhoods.  Some, mostly in drug stores, had a door you could close behind you.

Mostly grownups used the pay phones.  I don’t think I used one until I was in 11th grade.  They only cost 5 cents but most of us were too shy to call girls on the phone.

Most of the ladies were at the playgrounds or going on group walks in to the woods or little farms nearby and at the Saturday matinees at the movies.  There were also weekend parties without dates.  Sometimes friends came to family dinners.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From a Mom to a Long Lost Daughter

HEY READERS! If our seniors have inspired you to reconnect with YOUR family, tell us about it Here or on Facebook. We’d love to hear your story.

. . . .

Two weeks ago, Loretta's long lost daughter found her through this blog. They hadn't seen each other for years, so many that Loretta had lost count. Michelle, this is a Youtube video that Loretta made for you ;)

To make this reunion extra special, I thought it'd be fun to remember some of Loretta’s stories here...

... and also to celebrate a few other families who have reconnected through our seniors' voices:

Monday, September 24, 2012

3 Years, 30 Moments, 1 Story

3 years ago today, this project was born.

It needed a name.

The Best Day of My Life (So Far) were the only words big enough to encompass the positive spirit of my grandma, and the deep joy her stories and friendship make me feel.

What I didn’t know was that these words are even more massive than I realized, stretchier by the day to welcome more stories, more lives, more friendships. I didn’t know how many people this project would soon connect - and I mean truly, emotionally connect - from senior storytellers to volunteers and readers of all ages worldwide. Turns out we were never just collecting stories. Turns out this project is the ultimate intergenerational story, and you and I are all a part of it.

What better time than our shared 3rd birthday, to bring back 30 of the most memorable moments from our shared story… so far? Click to read the original blog post about any of these moments!

1A. When I wrote my first half-a-post about class… haha yes it was only a half, what a way to start…

1B. And then, the second half

2. When the words came tumbling out

3. When Bernice told about war, race and “Black and White Grits”

4. When Hattie told me what she had told her dying grandmom

5. When Big Mo took down his walls

6. When Henrietta made me cry

7. When Mo’s daughter emailed me and made my dream come true

8. When Henrietta thanked the worldwide web

9. When inner city teens started visiting our class with friends and created their own story-reading blog

10. When audience members, including 7-year-old Baye, shared their reactions to our seniors' stories and our project at our first major public event

11. When history came alive –  Helen, Beatrice, Hazel, Loretta all wrote about Martin Luther King

12. When Beatrice said our class is like a rainbow

13. When my grandma wrote our seniors a napkin note

14. When Madi stepped up from a visitor to become a teen intern

15. When a fluorescent pink walrus came to class

16. When Joe wrote about vision and Olivia, a teen, responded

17. When we launched a senior-and-teen satellite class in partnership with AARP and Free Library of Philadelphia

18. When Watson wrote from South Africa after finding Ellis, his favorite middle school teacher, on our blog

19. When Arthur passed away

20. When Arthur’s sister came to class to feel his presence

21. When this class helped Greta start a conversation with her grandson

22. When Isadora told her dying daughter, “You are My Sunshine”

23. When a reader from Canada thanked Isadora for inspiring her to reach out to her mom

24. When we were featured at Online News Association’s Social Media Summit

25. When Wharton students spoke up about our project

26. When Norman talked about how this project changed his pre-judgment towards young people

27. When 10-year-old Jasmine came to class and called it the best day of her life

28. When my senior buds pulled off the surprise of the century - a surprise party for me

29. When we unveiled our vision

30. Every time I get back on that phone with my amazing grandma

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

1 Hour X 1 Table

Want to try something slightly crazy because, well, the week before a 3-year anniversary calls for crazy ;) I’ve never tried this before. A MEGA blog post featuring all the stories our seniors shared in 1 session.

Last Thursday, the spectrum of topics ranged from Brenda's detailed
 observations of a wasp in a car to Loretta's struggles with 
homelessness, to Hazel meeting Muhammed Ali and thinking that he was 
handsome (hehe, oh yeah there was plenty of uncensored verbal commentary there…), to Beatrice saying about our program: This is the beginning, 
not the end.

During class, depending on their mood, not all the seniors write, some listen. But everyone joins in for iphone pics and videos, discussions and snacks. As individuals their voices blow my mind, but together their voices (and listening ears) rock my world.

And so – this makes for an unfashionably long blog post I know, and I am sorry because long things are not “in” or cool these days… but I swear to you, I’ve gotta show you the whole batch of stories just once, just so you know how it feels to be sitting at our story table. The craziest part is how simple the equation is. 1 hour X 1 table.

Beatrice Newkirk
Doing What I Like Best

I like and love coming to the writing class.  We have people from different races.  We learn and hear their stories.  We are of different neighborhoods.
We live in different parts of this city.  Thursdays of every week at 1 o’clock to 2 we are here.  There are lots of things we can write about.  There are stories we never heard before.  When we hear them, it is like I heard it before.  We have come a long ways.  This is the beginning, not the end.  Coming here together is a joyful thing. 
There is so much we have not heard.

Michael Chan Man-Tin
Very Happy

I am very happy to rejoin again after a long summer holiday. I hope all of us had a nice holiday and enjoyed the happiness spent with family members too. Best wishes and happy holidays for members of our families!

Loretta Gaither
My Livelihood

I am an advising counselor at the senior center. We had a meeting today, and I am on the advising board. I am still awaiting to find what position I want to have. I am very proud of myself.

I am still in the process of moving and finding a place to move to. God is on my side, and I won't stop until I get things straightened out. I cannot be taken advantage of, even if I am 70 years old. I have roommates who don't appreciate staff going through my belongings. My roommates are in need of assistance, and I help them with everything.

I am going to get my GED. I am not finished with trying to get where I need to be. I am fighting for my social security. I don't feel it is fair that the city is doing/treating people wrong. For instance, I was the person who exposed the city council people to the news for the drunk driving incident over the weekend.

I'm tired because I feel the city is taking advantage of me and my livelihood. I am fed up because I only get 2, not 3, meals a day. The only thing I got to spend out of my check is $100/mo. How can someone live off that? I just want my livelihood back. I want a home. I don't know how long it will take?

My psychiatrist, not my personal physician, tells me that I'm crazy, to take my money. If anything happens to me, I want someone to go to investigate.

Besides everything, this class is an inspiration for me. God Bless.

Sincerely yours,
Loretta Gaither

Hazel Nurse
A Humanitarian

As Muhammad Ali accepts the prestigious Liberty Medal tonight from the National Constitution Center, let’s roll back the years.

On invitation from our principal, at the Huey School possibly in the early seventies, Muhammad Ali appeared at my classroom. He faced a line of about forty eight and nine year olds and proceeded to lift each child into the air, give a big hug and words of encouragement.

What an honor it was to greet this world famous Olympic Medal Winner, Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, but most of all, a fighter for religious and civil rights.

Joe Garrison

I met my first radio personality when I was 6 years old, believe it or not.  She was a lady who did a morning show weekdays from 9 to 9:30 right after the wake up show on KVW.  Her name was Ruth Wells.  She used to give home-making advice:  home decorating, ways to save money on food shopping, every day she would talk about a few days.  I guess you could say she was the Martha Stewart of her day, but she was local.  I believe this took place in 1948 – I was in 1st grade and Ms. Wells came to visit.  After she read us a Christmas story, we sang a few Christmas songs and had refreshments.  She was a guest to our class.  I was in awe.  I was in the same room as a local celebrity?!  I was star struck.  She sounded just the way she did in person as she did on air.  I met other local celebrities after that but Ms. Wells was my first.  I never forgot her.  I felt special that I had something to brag about to my friends in other classes and to my family. 

Isadora Fields


The Best Day of My Life So Far

The best day of my life so far is today.  This sun is shining brightly.  I had a rough time getting here today.  There was an accident and the bus was detoured.  I had to walk back several blocks.  I really got my exercise today.

Henrietta Faust
Sweeter!  That’s My Battle Plan

To be sweet, and get sweeter and sweeter day by day!
Sweeter and sweeter day by day!  Hey!
I am sweeter and sweeter, I’m talkin’ sticky syrupy sweeter no matter what.
It’s my cure for insanity, I’m believing it baby! 
I’m a shelter for the truth! 
Spending my life crossing people at the church and the steeple!
I will be sweeter.
That’s my battle plan!  Sweeter and sweeter!
I know, I love this! 

Henrietta Faust
His Image on Earth

Healing is an everyday thing.
That was close
To hate his image I almost was provide
It was so fast, I almost sinned by last
And I would’ve been out of the game.
And the game would’ve been over!
If I had fallen for the trick and game would’ve been over
And I would have failed the test of temptation
So I glorify God
I praise God for stopping strong illusions
And I passed a test
One’s own belief and hunger test
And you can’t live by bread alone
Only God’s image I must not hate.
But I almost hated God’s image on earth
Do not hate God’s Image on Earth
Be careful not to hate God’s people on earth.

Greta Adams
I’m Glad God Made Me

This is something I read somewhere that I would like to quote and share:
I accept the fact that God made me.  I am therefore my desire, continuously to seek His will, to walk in His way, to glorify Him both night and day.  Even when life’s lessons cause me to endure moments of disappointment, I yet know for sure that God has a plan, heavenly designed and because of this, I can always find joy! And an eagerness to wait and see just how He will work things out for me!

Time and time again like He said He would, He has worked “all things” together for my good.

Glory, Hallelujah, my heart doth sing.  I would rather have Jesus than anything.

Brenda Scantelbury
The Bug Who Cried Out Loud

One evening as I and some of my friends got into their van, we saw a large sized (something) insect on the dashboard. We didn’t quite know what it was, but at closer inspection we thought it maybe be a wasp. When we closed the doors, windows and the air conditioning was turned on; the something started moving and trying to use its wings. One of the friends opened the van door on the driver’s side and I opened the door next to where I was sitting. The winged creature tried to rise up and all of us either ducked down or attempted to leave the van! The friend who was in the driver’s seat grabbed a newspaper and tried to get it out of the van and when that happened, we had a large sound that sounded like a screech. We all gasped, screamed and burst out with laughter at ourselves, how we behaved. I had never in my heard such a thing. I had heard recently that everything has a voice, well that insect or wasp, whatever it was – screeched as to say: Leave me alone. I came into this van just like you; to get out of the rain!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Unveiling... Our Vision Video!

Our Vision Video - please enjoy and share!

Just for fun... thought you might want to see our seniors react to the video ;)
Our 3-year anniversary is just around the corner… so readers, for just a few blog posts, we’re taking a quick break from sharing stories from our class to talking about a bigger story: Ours.

Facebook and Twitter fans got a sneak peek, and now, hello World, I am thrilled to officially unveil our Vision Video.

If you like what you see, please Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter, and post the video on your Facebook or Twitter pages!

You are part of our story now, and your friends and family are our next chapter - please keep our story rocking and rolling!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We're Turning 3 Years Old - Help Us Celebrate!

Hello, September!!! You guys… I am so excited I can barely contain myself… on 9/24 Best Day turns 3 years old, and here are 3 ways you can help us celebrate:


On 9/24, recordings of our seniors’ stories will be transformed into giant light beams all night long across the city’s skyline! Best Day is the Featured Group at “Open Air”, a spectacular light show co-hosted by Association for Public Art, Philadelphia Live Arts, Philly Fringe Festival and Design Philadelphia.


Our 9/24 blog post will be a compilation of 30 special stories and moments from the project’s history (so far) – and I’d love your suggestions on what to include! Simply scroll back through 3 years of stories (on the blog sidebar) and tell me which blog posts you like, and why, at or on Our Facebook Page!


Best Day’s stories and photos are featured at Philadelphia Art Alliance’s exhibition “Philadelphia Qualities of Life”, in a 3D installation about grandmothers by artists Eliza Stamps and Amy LinsenMayer. The show showcases problem-solving ideas to improve life, and runs Thursday 9/6-Sunday 11/25.


*Thank you to filmmaker Andrea Mack with the support of Larissa Mogano - you two are so superfly and it's been such an honor to have you on the team.

**Thank you to web whiz Tracy Levesque and her team at Yikes, Inc. especially Jodie Saueraker and Carlos Zuniga for all your web support… and 24/7 moral support ;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aileen (10 Year Old Breaks Record)

It’s never just a story. It’s the way the words are laid across the page. The volume and pace at which the words leave a senior’s lips. The moments when the lips purse in thought, or in mischief. All the details that flood back too fast to get back onto paper. The people who are at the table around you when you share your story. Or the person sitting right next to you. When Aileen, whom my senior buds and I all call “Mommy” in class, read this story out loud, Gloria whom we all call “Daughter”, was sitting next to her, beaming.  Daughter has always accompanied Mommy to class ever since they first joined. Daughter loves Mommy, and Mommy loves Daughter. So much. A story is everything that is on paper, and everything that is not. This may not read like a story about love. But it most definitely is.

Aileen Jefferson
10 Year Old Breaks Record

And that’s exactly true.
Are you interested?
“Mother I want to learn how to swim.”
“You have the rest of your life dear”
“Mother, I want to learn how to swim, now!”
And before I knew it, not the swimming teacher, but her father had accomplished the job.
The next day at the swimming pool as I yelled, “Stay out of the deep end!” my daughter continued swimming across the entire pool.
I was startled.
I held my breath.
She did the impossible, not only across the pool, but the deep end of the pool.
What happened next, I don’t know.  I fainted.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rose (Twice American)

Rose has the kind of voice that calms a room - when she speaks or reads, her voice is both carefree and sensitive. Whenever there is a new senior joining our class, my senior buds and I would tell him or her to just sit back and relax – no need to write if he or she isn’t in the mood yet. Rose nodded when we told her, smiled, and immediately began writing. Tiny pieces of her life glided like tiny dancers right across the page, as though the page is where she has always belonged.

Rosires Raff
Twice American

I used to say that I’m “Twice American”—South (Brazil) and North America.

1971—arrived in New York (Newark, South Orange, North Orange).  Loved every minute and everybody.

Moved to Philadelphia in 1995.

Presently I’m a widow.

I like poems, and also write some.

I have written an interesting story about myself, and many interesting events.  I’d like to find an expert person to help me with it, perhaps it will become a book or a movie.

Who knows?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

High School Shoutout

Hey! Are you a high school student, parent or teacher? Or know someone who is?

Good news - we've made it easier than ever for teens to comment on our seniors' stories. 5 easy steps. That's it! Selected teens and high schools will be featured in upcoming blog posts.

So teens - pop open the Comment tab and try it out. Get out in writing anything that pops into your mind. And get creative on how you'd like to share our flier: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, texts, ... maybe even print out some hard copies and pin them up at a local hangout or on your school's bulletin board.

Thank you for submitting a comment and telling your friends! Here is a look at what some other teens have said, and what your words mean to our seniors and all of us:

At an all-ages public event co-hosted by AARP, Free Library of Philadelphia, and Best Day, 17-year-old Olivia shared that Joe's story gave her a new appreciation for the visually impaired: "I discovered that I was the one who couldn’t see after I was enlightened by their insight." Click to hear the voices of this dynamic duo.
In a story entitled "Pre-Judgment" Norman confesses that before participating in our storytelling class, he was "leery of young people." Hearing the stories of his peers in person and seeing younger readers' responses to these stories online caused his change of heart. Click to hear Norman's candid confession.

Click to hear 16-year-old Madi talk about her participation in our program, and how Loretta's stories about homelessness has impacted her schoolwork and life. Madi first joined our class as a visitor, then became a regular attendee, and soon became a core intern and volunteer leading various aspects of the program both in person and behind the scenes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Diamond (It Doesn't Matter)

In response to one of our seniors' reflections on “People and Color”, 18-year-old Diamond writes, simply and boldly, “It doesn’t matter.” What power in 3 small words.

By Diamond Smith, 18
April 18, 2012
It Doesn’t Matter
In response to “People and Color” by Robert Mitchell, Senior

I don’t think that it should matter what color you are.
I think that, at the end of the day, we are all human.
My body is no different than the next person’s.

Diamond is in 11th grade at St. Mary’s Villa, and an Achieving Independence Center youth member. Her coach is Nicole Sonsini. Click Here to re-read the story that inspired Diamond to write her response.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

India (Changed Times)

Ever since our first summer in existence, our youth have consistently inspired us with the depth of their thinking. We are moved by the physical voices of those who visit our seniors in class, and the virtual voices of those who send us their responses to our seniors’ stories via email and Facebook. 

Our new Teen Outreach Manager Jul and I agree that these responses are too powerful to not to share, so I would like to dedicate a series of blog posts to our youth.  I would love to hear what you think and if you would like to see more blog posts like this. OR, IF YOU ARE A TEEN (yay!!), pick a story from our blog and send us your response to be considered for an upcoming blog post – I would be thrilled to hear from you. Chat with me via Facebook or email me at

Here to kick off our youth series is India. Thank you, India, for your submission - keep writing!

By India Shivers, 20
April 17, 2012
Changed Times

In response to “Changed Minds” by Missouri Grier, 92

The changed minds for the changed times
Living life of riches, as if everything is fine.

Loving thy neighbor, I am my brother’s keeper,
Enjoying my life, and avoiding the reaper.

With no hate in my heart and love in the air,
Showing the ones I love that I truly care.

India is a high school graduate and and Achieving Independence Center youth member. Her coach is Nicole Sonsini. Click Here to re-read the story that inspired India to write her response.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grateful, Surprised, and Proud

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Writing Teacher

Our writing teacher’s birthday was last week. She went away so we had to have something for her this week. She is a good person. We love having her for our teacher. We have learned so much from her and she is learning a lot from us. Everyone in this class enjoys her. We all hope she has lots more birthdays to come. We want her to know we really love her. We all look forward to seeing her every Thursday from one o’clock until two. Madi (our teacher’s teen intern) has been helping out a lot. We love her too. We all love to work together.

The seniors couldn’t contain their own excitement. When I walked into the classroom last week (dashed in, really – that’s just my usual speed of walking – with my purse, laptop bag, and a big tote with all the notebooks and pens), they already began singing “Happy Birthday.” I looked that our writing table, and it was filled to the edges with cakes, sweets, drinks, and Loretta’s fried chicken.

The cake was huge, and the drinks were heavy. I couldn’t believe the seniors had brought all that in from their houses or from the store, not to mention hauling all the weight up two floors, in order to get everything to the classroom.

Even for those of them who took the elevator, maneuvering big wide boxes must not have been an easy balancing act. Many of them walk with canes.

A whole sea of happy emotions washed over me as they sang. And most of all, I felt grateful, surprised and proud. And I realized those feelings weren’t just my feelings at that particular moment, but something I feel when I am with my senior buds every week.

Grateful. Because I am surrounded by such beautiful people in my life. This project, “The Best Day of My Life So Far” has become much, much more than just this class. But at the same time, this class, and my time every week with my best buds, is so much more to me than this project.

Surprised. Because not only did the seniors self-organize this extravaganza, they have stepped up and up and up through the time I have known them. As individuals, yes, I have seen than in their stories and their smiles, I know that in my heart. But as a team, even more so, they to me signify unbelievable heights, unbelievable strength.

Proud. Because I started this project with a dream, that one by one seniors around me would open up and feel free to be themselves and through their individuality inspire younger people. But reality has surpassed my dreams. And it’s in the little things I notice it –

Every week, Beatrice coordinates the reading order in class; “Mommy” makes sure the table is quiet during writing time so everyone can focus; Norman stays after class to scan the handwritings; Mo stays after to straighten out the room; Henrietta brings a rolling luggage full of snacks; Mr. Robert asks if anyone has a birthday that week; and all of them take turns walking Joe, who is blind, downstairs to help him catch the van after class.

I still remember one of the first field trips I ever took them on, to the public TV and radio station WHYY. I was so worried about all the logistics, like how they were going on and off our van. And they turned out totally fine, beyond fine. We had a blast presenting to reporters and journalist at a state-of-the-art conference room with a huge screen, and just as much of a blast singing goofy songs on the way there and back. I remember wondering why I had worried so much. Realizing that they were capable of great things and all I needed to do was to let them be, and motivate them.

The seniors burst into Happy Birthday song mode 4 more times during the hour of my surprise party. One time Robert started it, giggling; one time Joe started it, with a jazzy vibe; one time Greta started it, laughing out loud. And one time, just everyone, somehow, altogether, spontaneously, at the same time.

I am writing this story so that I can read it to my senior buds in class tomorrow, right off the blog. I hope they like it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Miss Mo (Chickens)

Ever wonder how Little Miss Mo (Missouri) got her name?  Not what you might think…

Having lived in cities almost all my life, I always wonder how it is like to live on a farm. Here is a bittersweet and very funny peek I don’t think I would get anywhere else… oh, Miss Mo!!

Missouri Grier

Missouri was the name of my chicken.  My mother raised chickens in the back yard. 

Everyone had a chicken in the household.  When their chicken was to be sacrificed, we would have a little party.  I was happy at all the parties but my own.  I cried and my mother hugged me and I was sad for a week.

My aunt bought me another one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gloria (Magic Circle)

A simple thought occurred to me on my 32nd birthday yesterday, and it made me happy. My senior buds' stories aren't just about being old. But about ALL of life's experiences. The thought reminds me of this story which “Daughter” wrote a few weeks ago. For those of you newer to the blog, Gloria is actually close in age to me, and my buds and I all call her “Daughter” because she always, and always lovingly, accompanies Aileen, whom we all call “Mommy, to class.

Gloria Washington
Magic Circle

Every time I sit at the oval table in our sun drenched, book laden room I am transported.

The myriad voices enthrall me.  Tales of history, pathos, and ingenuity…Nuggets of golden stories I would never know of otherwise. 

Secrets of the entertainment business, Philly’s diverse ethnic stories from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are offered as well as true moments of accomplishment from my fellow literary travelers.  I am in awe and silenced.  I think about these stories often while traversing the city or in quiet moments alone. 

They move me and make me think.  I am adding a new dimension to my “lens” on the cities multi-ethnic neighborhoods. 

Sometimes the musings are quite cerebral, a nod to my fellow theatre member.  Other times they are funny, poignant, who knew these things about Atlantic City?

Each voice carries weight.  Separately they are strong reminders of our past.  Together they are a unified crescendo of what makes this city and country great.

And hovering incandescently is the fairy that facilitates it all.

I am honored to be a part of this ritual of words.