Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lea’s Quartet: Beatrice, Hattie, Joe, Gogo

In the last blog post, Lea reflected on four stories that have personally impacted her. Here’s Lea’s story quartet that I hope you will find moving too. For me, rereading them with Lea’s insight casts a fresh glow on all these stories, beyond what I had realized before.

I love it when volunteers and readers tell me which stories have moved them over the years, because depending on what you are going through at that particular moment in time in your particular life, it’s always a different set of stories for everyone. And even within the same stories, the life lessons we each draw out are different. And so, in that way, each story is really embedded with a million life lessons, a million gifts – they transform into something totally unique and custom, just for you, just for me.

I remember a conversation I had with Madi, our teen outreach officer, about how to make stories relevant to teens. I asked her, who joined us when she was 15 and is now 18 and college bound, whether we should come up with a followup question for each story, and she said no. She told me Best Day stories are like art, the freedom of interpretation is part of what makes them special. That freedom is partly what attract teens to visit our seniors, read our blog, connect with us on social media, come to our events, and that freedom we hope will be what attracts teens to crack open in inspirational storybook for all ages that our volunteers – with Madi being one of the leads – are busy compiling behind the scenes.

And so, I invite you to savor the meaning that Lea has so beautifully drawn for us from these stories, while finding new meaning of your own!

Beatrice Newkirk
Living Life to the Fullest

Living life without pain.  We all feel some kind of pain.  We have to take it one day at a time.  Everyone has the time to do what is right.

We are all here for a reason.  Time waits for no one.  Everyday is a blessing.

When we complain, someone is worse than you.  So we take it one day at a time.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
4. 4.2013
A Day to Remember When I was Four

My mother was bathing me in the large tin tub on the kitchen table one Saturday night.  I must have been thinking about my civil rights….. the Emancipation and all that stuff….. I was named after my maternal grandmother “Hattie”, so they called me “Little Hattie”.  I wore these funny looking black patent leather high top shoes.

Well, this Saturday I had had it.  I told my mother “I don’t want to be called ‘Little Hattie’ and I am sick and tired of these high top shoes”.  

So, it was written… so it was done…. I was “Hattie” with the regular string up low shoes.

Joe Garrison
The Thing that I Miss

I was born and raised in Philadelphia and things have changed a lot, but the one thing I really miss is the trolley rides.  I had an uncle who used to take me all over the city on trolley rides. I would say I was between four and six, but when my uncle took me on the rides, I noticed little intricacies about the trolleys. I remember they were big, heavy, massive vehicles and when they passed they would vibrate the streets and sidewalk. I remember getting on the trolley, and there were two conductors at each end and when you paid they would ring a bell like a cash register. The seats used to be made of wood, like big wooden benches. Even when I was a teenager, I still had a fascination with trolleys. My friend and I would go on Route 23 and stay on for the whole route just to have something to do. I used to live near a trolley line, and I would feel the vibrations of the train and that’s how you know the trolley was coming. I get that same feeling in the subway or the elevated train, and it’s basically a glorified trolley.

Buses are okay, but they’re not the same. It’s basically a glorified, really big car. It’s not the same as the thrill of riding a trolley car. Throughout the years, the one thing I will miss about Philadelphia is the trolley.

Gogo Jenny Williams
My Best Days Are Now

I meet people daily who are overwhelmed with the complexities of life in the 21st century. People are rushing around like a colony of ants without the intent and purpose of ants. Ants know where they are going. What’s wrong with me? I sometimes wonder. Aha, that’s my predicament, wonderment, the excitement of the moment. Each day is a new day, when I wake up it does not yet appear where it will go.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Honoring Lea

True, I founded Best Day, but in the bigger scheme of things, it’s more like Best Day found me. This project reminds me every day how well it fits its name: the best day of MY life so far.

One of these living reminders is my volunteer team, and today I'd like to honor a special member of that group, Lea Peterson. If you’re a Facebook fan of ours, you have probably been seeing her in our class pictures. (If not, ahh! - let’s get connected HERE so you don’t miss out on more pics!) An avid runner and basketball player, she is the one who exudes athleticism and energy in person and pics – perfect match for the skyhigh energy of our seniors… and me!

This year, Lea will be completing her degree in Therapeutic Recreation at Temple University. As you read below, we met through a mass email of all "places". I noticed the spunk and confidence in her voice right away and took her under my wing.

Among many hats (including Tweeting – connect with us on Twitter too if you haven’t yet!), Lea co-facilitates my beloved senior class with me. Because I saw how thoroughly she “gets” Best Day’s spirit and methodology, I offered her one of the most important jobs I have ever offered anyone: co-authoring Best Day’s long awaited Facilitator Training Guide. Many of you have written in over the years, asking me to spill my “secrets” of how to start a Best Day group. The Training Guide is my answer, and I can’t be happier to be mentoring Lea and getting her spunk and confidence infused into my message to you.

And now, meet Lea, my friend, co-facilitator, co-author, and shining mentee. Check back soon – in the next blog post, we will feature four senior stories that has especially inspired Lea.

(Want to nominate your local senior center to receive an advance copy of our training guide? Email us at or message us on Facebook!)

Lea Peterson

Being a part of The Best Day Of My Life So Far has been an honor, to say the least. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great souls! The volunteers and seniors are truly some of the best people. I felt like a part of the family immediately.

Every week as I go to the Senior Center, do tasks behind the scenes, or tell someone about where I go each Thursday at 1pm, I think to myself, “I am so so so glad that I emailed a professional listserv in search of an internship – Benita personally replied to my mass-email, we spoke with on the phone (I still remember that first conversation!), and I got started doing my part for TBDOMLSF. I began with helping in the social media department’s Twitter account.

My role quickly grew to so much more. The first session I attended really hit home. Everything I was doing behind the scenes came full circle. I have definitely found something that is totally “me”. Since the first time I attended class on February 28, 2013, I have heard amazing stories. I would like to highlight 4 in particular.

Beatrice Newkirk’s stories are always heartfelt, mostly quick and to the point but say so much. She wrote one titled, “Living Life to the Fullest”. I remember this story because I was fairly new to class and this was the first story I heard that sent such a strong message. It was surprising to me that her story was so open and deep, I really just thought, “Wow, this is a great group. They really trust one another and feel comfortable being themselves.” After hearing her story, I wanted to bring everyone from my own generation to listen. Everyone needs to hear these stories.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe’s “A Day To Remember When I Was Four” sent laughs throughout the room. I recall her tone and voice while she was reading, watching her face as she ended the story. It was a priceless moment. Another short story, but it was very impressing that she remembered this day. I barely remember my first two years of high school, and I was 14 and 15 years old! Not 4! After class this day I left thinking, I cannot wait for next week to hear more stories about their younger years. To hear more about how they grew up in the city that I live in today is so eye-opening.

“The Thing That I Miss” by Joe Garrison was a favorite by the group that day. As he read about the trolley, I looked around the table and saw remembrance and recognition that took each senior back to the days of the trolley vibrations. It was like they all related about the Philadelphia trolley. At that moment, I was in love with the friendships they have formed from Best Day.

Gogo Jenny Williams’s “My Best Days Are Now” has been my favorite title so far. To me the impact this group has made in her life shines with this title. This story was an “aha” moment for me that Thursday. She wrote about ants and purpose, and how each day is a mystery. Before I came to class that day I had been eating outside on my stoop. I had dropped some crumbs and noticed a tiny ant grab the huge (in comparison) crumb! I thought how remarkable that they can carry so much weight – what a strong creature. It was coincidental that she wrote about ants that day. I related to her story very well.

As the substitute facilitator for Benita this fall while she is on maternity leave, I will have many more stories to hear and friendships to make. I was more than honored when she felt I would be a good fit to fill in for her with this original group of amazing seniors – which has become the inspiration and model for additional groups worldwide. Little did I know when I first began in January as a social media officer that this huge, exciting responsibility would offer itself to me.

In order for me to be prepared and comfortable as a facilitator, Benita has been sharing her secrets with me. I journaled, we talked, and she told me all about how her mind works and why she does or doesn't do certain things as a facilitator.

I was again honored when Benita asked me to take on a related role that both lead to and result from my own "facilitator training" – the making of our Training Guide book. Being a part of something so life-changing and now being able to put it into words on paper for others to read and implement is, again, something I could have never imagined happening when I sent that first mass-email.

To sum it all up, I can't wait for the seniors to teach me even more every week this fall. I cannot thank Benita and the seniors and other volunteers enough for my experiences so far and my experiences to come!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thank You to My Favorite Party People

To my fave senior buds:

Just want to write a note to publicly thank you for your mad party skills!!! Last week, when I walked into the room, and saw the full room decorated with food, cake, party d├ęcor, cards, I couldn’t believe it. Last year, you surprised me with an amazing birthday party, and this year you surprised me with an amazing baby shower. You did it again – you totally got me! When my fellow "young seniors" Lea, Caitlin, Madi told me it really was all of you, not they, who initiated it and pulled it all off, I thought it was so awesome. They are as proud of you as I am. I can’t even explain how loved I feel.

There are so many things I want to thank you for.

The sweetest of the thought.

The genius of self-organizing secret after-class meetings to plan everything out and self-delegate tasks ;)

The sheer might of the physical labor you put into this – how did you carry that giant cake, all the beverages, the serving cart complete with cake-cutting supplies, cups, utensils, up the elevator, down the windy hallways, all the way to our classroom?!

Our class is all about stories, but yet so much more – the friendship that I have gained with each and all of you is what I am most grateful for. You are the ones who make every day the best day of my life so far. Our lives.

Love, Benita

Hazel Nurse
Best Days and Years

This class of unusually fine members has always been an inspiration for me.  In fact, I can now call it a journey because, if you remember, two years ago I announced the arrival of twins right here in this class.

After thinking it over, and looking back because the twins were two years old on June 2nd, you must be my wonderful writing and storytelling family.

The unforgettable experiences engineered by our gracious and talented leader, Benita, and a host of others, are just wheels for our train of good thoughts, such as her young co-facilitators and assistants Caitlin, Lea, Madi, Donnell, Dee, and Jill, and our faithful senior co-leader Beatrice.  We have a much appreciated way to express our thoughts. These are not only the “Best Days of Our Lives” but “The Best Years of Our Lives” too!!

Beatrice Newkirk
Every Thursday

Every Thursday is when we come together to our writing class. We meet every Thursday at 1 o’clock in our class. There is so much love and respect. I can’t wait to hear new stories. We even hear about our teacher, Benita, expecting a baby. That is good news! We in the class wish her all the luck.

My family was so happy to hear the news. She surprised us all. Being a mother is the greatest gift. A child that is part of man and wife. Oh what joy it will be.

Beatrice Newkirk
The Best Time of My Life So Far

I have so much to be thankful for. First for God letting me be here up to 79 years.  Second for letting me be a mother, grandmother, and a great grandmother.  Third for me having 12 kids and teaching them to know right from wrong.  You have to raise kids but let them know who is the boss.  Teach them what I taught them.  Raising kids is a full time job.

Whether you have one of three or 12.  It takes lots of patience and love.  But most of all discipline.  You can’t let the kids raise you.  You are supposed to love and help and show understanding.