Thursday, April 11, 2013

Caitlin (A Volunteer's Reflections)

Super stoked because sitting in front of me is a stack of comment 
cards from last Friday's college honors conference that one of the
 conference chairs hand delivered to me (thanks Rich!) in time to show
 my senior buds today in class in a few hours. Our senior buds are gonna love seeing these.... stay tuned for videos and blog posts with seniors’ stories from the day, and seniors’ reactions to your comments!!

And now, to share her memory of the event, is 22-year-old Caitlin, who volunteers as our writing class (and event) assistant every week, and also as our editorial assistant behind the scenes. Caitlin is also an intern at our buddying org Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Thanks Caitlin for all that you do!

Caitlin Cieri
A Volunteer’s Reflections

I have not had a lot of experience working with seniors throughout my life. I loved my own grandparents who were bright and active, but senior centers and retirement homes always seemed dismal to me. I had wrongly assumed that the only people who went there were those who resigned themselves to dying in their old age. But Best Day of My Life (So Far) encourages seniors to keep living and writing, and they return each week with the zeal of someone who still has a lot of life left.

As a recent 22-year-old college graduate who regrets not writing down my own grandmother’s stories while she was still around, last Friday I was delighted to see the interest of college students everywhere in the stories of Best Day, at the 2013 Regional Honors Conference cohosted by Northeast Regional Honors Council and La Salle University.

Keeping in the spirit of the day’s seminar, the history of Philadelphia, the entire van of seniors reminisced about the city as we drove from Broad Street’s thriving theatres to the brick-lain streets of the Old City. Upon our arrival, the seminar’s hosts (Preston, Richard, Heather and Lori) and six LaSalle students escorted us into the hotel for a refreshing, light lunch. They were even kind enough to play waiters and waitresses for Best Day’s writers.

During the meal, we had discussions about the senior’s lives and backstories to prep them for their performance. I myself have volunteered at Best Day since October, regularly attending the workshops and ghostwriting for participants with extra needs. Even so, I didn’t know that Hattie loved cooking or that Brenda was a former preschool teacher until that day! After the coffee and cookies, the students passed out papers and pens, members of our group chose cards from a basket and wrote from one of three prompts provided on each card. As the students went around making sure everybody had their papers and any assistance needed, Best Day’s resident photographer “Medium Mo,” and I took picture after picture of the seniors crafting their stories.

When the last few minutes were up, seniors and “young seniors” alike made mad dashes to the restrooms before Lori introduced us. A grand total of eleven seniors spoke before a room filled with 400 students, administrators and faculty about the multiple changes Philadelphia went through. Zoos were refurbished, an area called the Tenderloin was made into a highway, and one reader and her roommate took residence in a newly integrated college dormitory. In fact, Hazel even had pictures of her and her classmate, in a dorm surrounded by white collegiates, and passed them around the entire conference room (much to Benita’s distress!) Kristin was also kind enough to both write down Loretta’s story, and to read it aloud to her fellow Explorers. And Norman, one of Best Day’s biggest advocates, mentioned that when he was younger, he thought he would always be “too cool for senior centers.” After the story, Norman was good enough to give shout-outs to everyone; to Benita, to LaSalle, to “Medium Mo,” to all the young visitors who come to our weekly class (some 10 years old and younger), even to me and my internship at Philadelphia Young Playwrights!

All in all, this conference was one of Best Day’s best days! Everyone went home with a complimentary mug (that could double as a fashionable pen holder), a smile on their face, and the warm feeling that comes from sharing your life with strangers and knowing that they listened.