Thursday, December 28, 2017

'Tis The Season (Kaitlin, Benita, Cindy, Melissa, and Caitlin)

I hope all of you had and are having a good holiday season, and if you haven't celebrated any holidays, I hope you at least got a nice break from the daily grind. I've decided to end the year by showing off the fruits of our five-week holiday spotlight. You may have already seen these in our newsletter, but if you haven't subscribed yet, then consider this our Christmas gift to you.

As you can see below, we have pictures of Emily Wilt and her great-granddaughter Kaitlin Kortonick, Benita's son Jett and her grandmother Mei Chiu, Celene Jones and Blanche Bowers with their aid Cynthia "Cindy" SchoffstallMichael Tsuei and his daughter Melissa, and Frances Bryce and myself. Each of these photos has a watercolor frame hand-painted by our very own Alyssa Abel. Below each picture is a short blurb about about the importance of Best Day, along with a link to an older bud's story.
Kaitlin Kortonick
I grew very close with my great-grandmother in the last few years of her life. After she moved into the United Methodist Communities at Pitman, where I was volunteering at weekly Best Day meetings, I got to see her more. After a while, I started visiting her every week, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

One afternoon, while we were chatting away, I mentioned that I wished I'd visited her more before she moved. She just smiled, patted my hand, and said, "That's okay. You're here now."

To me, that's what Best Day is all about: just being there. It's about listening, and really getting to know one another on a human level, regardless of age. I miss my "kindred spirit" every day, but I am so grateful to have shared so many laughs and made so many wonderful memories with her. We even got to experience Best Day together, and I now have a collection of her stories to return to whenever I'm missing her most.

Click here to read the accompanying story by Emily Wilt.
Benita Cooper
11 years ago, I called my grandma for the first time in my life, just to talk. I was 25 and newly married at the time. Now my husband and I are parents of two amazing, energetic little boys. That phone call brought my grandma and me closer than I had ever felt, and opened up my heart and ears to the voices of older adults near and far. It also opened up my voice to speak up against older adult isolation and lit a fire in me to bring generations together through the sharing of moments and stories.
This photo means so much to me because it was a genuine moment shared by my younger son and my grandma -- my two angels. Seeing them connect so deeply, yet so simply, reminded me that no age is too old or too young to feel The Best Day of My Life So Far spirit.
It makes me so happy to know that my work here at Best Day will leave my children and their children a collection of life lessons they can't find anywhere else, and also show them the importance of cultivating deep relationships with older generations.
While my grandma's friendship continues to be my inspiration, my hope for my sons' futures adds fuel every day to my fire. Together with our phenomenal team of volunteers, and our partnering organizations around the country, I am more committed than ever to changing the lives of older adults and younger listeners - both nationwide and in my own family - one story at a time.

Click here to read the accompanying story by Mei Chiu.
Cynthia "Cindy" Schoffstall
Along with me, we have three aids that are in their 20's who are learning from and encouraging the participants to share their stories. Their willingness to listen and ask meaningful questions has helped the participants to feel valued and appreciated. They have often remarked that most young people don't want to listen to them.
Watching our group dynamics change during this process has been very rewarding. When we began, I was unsure about one individual who tends to be opinionated and often crude; however, as he has been telling his stories you can see that he is sitting taller, contributing and encouraging to others. We have a few participants that have difficulty staying on track; however, by asking meaningful questions and guiding them back they are able to share their stories.
Storytelling allows them to share more than their memory of time and space, they are able to share the emotions, and discover how those memories have shaped who they are today. They are also building deep relationships of trust as they have opened up and share. Their willingness to share their brokenness, at various points in their life, is a true testimony of how trust is built in this group and how sharing stories impact lives.
On an administrative level we are planning activities and hiring staff with The Best Day of My Life So Far's six metrics  
in mind. Giving voice to a person's life experience, not only values the person, but connects all those listening in a way that is forgotten in the fast pace of society as a whole.
Click to read the accompanying stories by Celene Jones and Blanche Bowers.
Melissa Tsuei
My father has always been a person who expresses himself creatively and he has long been a storyteller. Best Day has been a great outlet for this expression, allowing him a space to reflect on the fullness of his life and his past, as well as hone his English writing skills. I look forward to seeing more of his creations.
I believe the group has also fostered connections with people my father otherwise may not have come into contact with. We both enjoy seeing his stories in print and I love hearing him talk about sharing with the group, and "talking shop", as I am also a writer. I appreciate the opportunities Best Day has provided for my father to build new connections to other people and, likewise, to his own experiences.

Click to read the accompanying story by Michael M. Tsuei.
Caitlin Cieri
The Best Day of My Life So Far is an intergenerational community that's always meant a lot to me. I started as a visitor and volunteer in 2012, and now work as Lead Facilitator and Blogger at the Best Day group in the Philadelphia Senior Center. Not only am I devoted to sustaining the weekly sessions and blog posts, but I'm also devoted to our storytellers. In the past five years, I've gone from asking Benita how to run the group to telling her what I've planned in the weeks ahead. Also, I've made more friends than I can count with other volunteers and our older adult participants.

Today I would like to introduce one of my older friends, Frances Bryce. Even before class starts, she'll keep me company during lunch time and we'll talk about all sorts of amazing things. Just last week she told me how she used to teach ESL to Koreans and Egyptians and got invited to their houses! She's an enthusiastic regular of Best Day, and always has something to write about. Every day Frances comes in impeccably dressed in slacks and a nice ironed blouse. She takes Best Day so seriously, she'll outright tell people not to hog the floor so that everyone gets heard.

Frances' friendship and commitment to Best Day has taught me how to confidently work with any group. She taught me how to balance friendliness with professionalism, and leadership with empathy.

Click to read the accompanying story by Frances Bryce.
I hope that you keep following our blog and our older buds for many years to come. And if you like these stories, then please share them with a friend or a family member who you think would love them too. Have a safe, exciting and happy 2018, and thank you for making 2017 just a little bit better.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Little Time Together (Nouria)

This past week was the last week of Best Day before the new year. This week, the PSC is throwing a Holiday Party for all our older buds, and we wouldn't be Best Day if we got in the way of a good time. And the next week will be the holiday season when older and younger buds alike are spending time with their friends and family.
Last week's workshop was much more intimate, since Hannah, Kara and I were all hosting. Hannah took our senior selfie for this week and it came out great. We also got to see a sneak preview of Nouria's performance in the show I mentioned in this post. I felt especially lucky, since I knew I would not be able to see the performance myself. I'm looking around to see if anybody taped the performance, but in the meantime I've decided to post Nouria's story here. Fair warning, there's implied sexual assault in this story. It gets scary at points, but it has a happy ending, and considering all the stories that are coming out about sexual assault I felt like I needed to share it.

Nouria Bennouna
My Angel Who Always Saves Me

Hi, I'm from Morocco; long time ago, I was a student the first year at a medical university, and wanted to attend the army to be a doctor. I went to the base to ask about it, the soldier at the front door didn't let me in, but he showed me a fancy car and told that it belonged to the colonel in charge and that he is leaving soon. I can talk to him when he will be outside. A few minutes later, I saw the car leaving the door. I went to talk to him, he was helpful, said of course he can do this, and invites me to come with him right away to the office in charge. Once I was sitting in the car, he told that he had something to do in his house before. When he parked he invited me to wait for him in the house instead of staying alone in the car. I followed him with entire confidence.
A young man with two huge dogs opened the door for us. After we were inside, he locked the door and stayed there telling me to go inside where the colonel went, but I was like a statue stuck against the wall, trying to make myself as small as possible, so confused, not realizing what was happening. The house didn't look safe with the young man, his dogs, and behind doors in front of me, I heard a woman screaming too loud.
At this moment, someone (my angel) knocked at the door, and the young man opened it. It took me a little bit to take my feet outside and leave. Then the young man got out the house and called to me: Come back, come back.
What would you tell him = NO NO NO.

Thank you so much, Nouria, for sharing this story with the people of Best Day, the staff of the Wilma Theatre, and the PDC at large. I hope you have a Happy Holiday season with lots of miracles, and the same goes to the loyal readers of this blog.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hidden Gems (Elliot and Frances)

You might remember a few weeks ago I wrote about how sometimes our older buds will talk about something that would make a great Best Day story without even realizing it. Well, I'm happy to announce that I'll be posting two of them today. I wanted to wait a few weeks before posting them since they were recent stories. It takes time to transcribe and proofread our stories. Also, one of our stories is a little darker, and it seemed awkward to put it in the Thanksgiving post. But I'm sharing it now because, like I say, sometimes the best day of your life is when you can talk about the worst day of your life.
Elliot Doomes 
Gun Disease  
I have many intelligent people who say "Guns don't kill, people do." But I don't 
know one person who could kill 50 people at once by himself of herself without a gun in their hand. We can arrest the disease of cancer, tuberculosis, and many other diseases that kill people. But we have no remedy for the gun disease. A gun doesn't attack the body as other diseases do. It attacks the mind of those that purchase them. For gun disease, there is no remedy. It is not an individual disease, but a societal one. Anyone can purchase a gun. We have approximately 3500 police officers in the City of Philadelphia. There are more guns owned by private citizens then there are by police officers. There are more guns than people in this city. I do not see the solution to this problem in the near future. In other civil countries where guns are not owned by private citizens, gun have been forbidden by private citizens in those countries such as England, Canada, and Australia, which may have two deaths by guns in an entire year. We all recognize guns as a problem, but our representatives, our congressmen, our senators do nothing to curtail this disease which is the Disease of the Gun. How long will the average citizen wait to rise up and put an amendment in our Constitution to make guns less prevalent in this country. 
Why won't somebody listen? 
And I've been shot myself. I've had two spine operations for a gunshot wound and the bullet is still there. They didn't remove it because they didn't want me to become paralyzed. But I have to walk with this cane and take pain medication that don't work thanks to those bullets. Good think I was only shot once. And if I got shot with one of those steel bullets, I wouldn't be walking today. That's a story within itself. 
They had to find the right hospital with the right equipment. I never found out who shot me. I was just crossing the street when it happened. I didn't even see their face. I don't think my daughter knows and I don't think my grandchildren know. I don't want people insisting I sit down and take it easy. I don't want that anymore and this all happened a good six years before my daughter was born. She was born in '68 and this happened around '62.
Frances H. Bryce

In California I was fortunate enough to learn how to teach women from Korea, Egypt, and anyplace else who wanted to learn, how to communicate with each other in the U.S.A.'s English Language. Repetition and demonstration of words and sentences were the methods used. The class was very motivated to learn and use the language that was taught.
I learned about their culture and shared my culture with them. We had meals from each native land, and to no one surprise, we were more alike in what we valued as humans: Family, friends, morals, ethics, belief in a higher being, maybe with a different name, and to respect each as they respected others.
The Korean women kept their maiden name, different from most of the Americans who, after wedding, assume their husbands' last name 
If you're in the area, please stop in the Philadelphia Senior Center for all sorts of fun events tomorrow. At 12:30 in the auditorium, there will be a performance piece produced by The Wilma Theatre, starring the older buds of PSC, including our very own Nouria. And at 1:30 in the cafeteria, our own Eugene Charrington will be hosting a reading and book sale/signing alongside Ikru the Poet and Miss Odessa.

And finally, here's a senior selfie from none other than Frances Bryce herself!

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Five Weeks of Giving (Emily)

Afternoon everyone. It's the holiday season and we're as busy as ever! Benita's been reaching out to the volunteers and older buds of Best Day to create a series of newsletters honoring both. Over the course of five weeks, we'll be showing off five volunteers and older buds with some testimonials from the volunteers. There will also be hand-painted picture frames for each newsletter, lovingly painted by our own Alyssa Abel. If you're already following our newsletter, then you've already seen two weeks of testimonials. But for the rest of you...

Since Kaitlin and Emily are featured in this picture, it only makes sense to include Emily's story too. 

Emily Wilt
Living on a Farm
Growing up on a farm has great memories. Being a family of ten, we had a wonderful life.
My mother did a lot of preserving in quart jars. We had a cellar which my father had built, a large shelf closet from floor to ceiling. My mother filled it with everything she had preserved, which helped during the long winter months. How I wish I had a camera then; it was beautiful. I can still see it! We also had a dirt cellar where coal was kept on one side and sweet potatoes on the other, which my dad had raised. My mother and father worked from morning till night, never complaining.
Mom had a washboard when she washed heavy clothes. Her iron was heated on a coal stove.
I was the baby of the family—so many years ago my mom bought bolts of material and made my sisters’ clothes, including pantaloons. I still have the pictures!
For recreation, my friend Helen and I had a chicken coop for our dollhouse. We would spend hours a day cleaning it up and washed the many tiny windows. We furnished it with old furniture our parents donated. We planted beautiful flowers to enjoy looking out at our clean windows.
The rest of the summer we walked a mile to go swimming in Ewan Lake. In the winter, we had the “high hill” to sled down. It was near my home. It was a big gathering and a bonfire was lit. Sometimes a pickup truck would let us hold on to take us to the top to start over again. Very enjoyable!
While sledding down a hill on our farm, my sled and little finger got caught between a corn stub, and I broke my little finger. Didn’t rush to the doctor in those days—so I still have the reminder! [With a sweet smile, Emily held up her slightly crooked little finger.]
Life on the farm was great!

Want more stories of Pitman, NJ? Then check out our sister blog The Best Day of My Life So Far at Pitman.
And if you want to see all of our weekly testimonials, then subscribe to our newsletter here.

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Happy Hour and Happy Holidays (Kara)

Happy Holidays, everyone. Both the older buds and the volunteers took a break from Best Day for Thanksgiving (or, for the international readers, our annual pre-Christmas turkey dinner.) I decided to ask my fellow facilitator Kara to throw in her two cents about our Happy Hour three weeks ago. Enjoy!

Kara Maria Naklicki
What could make Best Day even better? Happy hour!

A few weeks ago I was able to attend the Best Day Happy hour at City Tap House, and it didn't disappoint. I was greeted at the door by volunteers and made my donation, which ensured happy hour drinks and our own little area to socialize. I met up with Caitlin, who had talked me up to a few of the other volunteers and facilitators. She's great at it! I got to meet Benita Cooper, the founder of Best Day, for the first time. It was great to hear her tell the story of why she started Best Day and you can tell how passionate she is about the organization. She seemed to be so happy and devoted to it, and her enthusiasm was infectious. One of our older buds, Mike, came with his daughter Melissa. He's a great storyteller and conversationalist, so it was awesome to have a beer with him and chat.

There were a lot of new people, so I can't identify everyone, but I met a lot of Best Day enthusiasts and the vibe was very positive. We all shared how great it is to be involved, to hear stories, and to get to know all of the amazing people that come to the workshop. It's obvious that the organization touches a lot of lives and it was so cool to talk to everyone about their experiences. I hope we can have another event like this in the future, and hopefully more of our older buds will come too. It's such a great way to get everyone together and raise money to help such an important organization. I had a great night, and I think everyone else did too.

Just because Happy Hour's over doesn't mean we're slowing down. We've got all sorts of great things planned for Best Day in the next few weeks, including a five-week newsletter series that put the spotlight on our volunteers and older buds. If you aren't already a subscriber, then sign up here. And of course, we'll be having lots and lots more stories from our older buds!

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, November 23, 2017

What I'm Thankful For (Elliot)

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers of this blog. If you're reading from another country, then just know that this is our annual pre-Christmas turkey dinner feast. One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is to say what we're thankful for. I'm thankful for my friendship with the people of Best Day, and that they share as much with me as they do.

I make a habit of talking to my older buds outside of the workshop too. Every so often, they'll tell me about something amazing that would make a perfect Best Day story. When I tell them that they need to write about it for our collection, the response is either "I'd never thought of that," or "Who would want to read about that?" To me, it's odd that a person could have taught ESL, been a part if a TV show's studio audience, or had their brother literally throw someone out of the house and think it wasn't a good story for Best Day. I know a few of the older buds sometimes come into class claiming that they have nothing to write about; and some would even skip out because of it. So I'm thankful that I'm close enough to the people of Best Day that I can remind them how much more they can write about, and how much more people want to read about.

Elliot Doomes
Forgotten Hero
Octavius V. Catto, he was a Civil Rights and Human Rights leader who was assassinated here in Philadelphia, right on South Street. Most people don’t even know his name. He was never mentioned in school in any historical book of any kind.
I believe he fought in the Civil War. He graduated from college or university – I forget which one. I think it could’ve been Harvard but I’m not sure. He has a place named after him on 16th and Fitzwater, right here in Philadelphia.
As a kid, I went there many times for dances and recreation and parties and such; it was a great place to have a fun time. He had a band, he had marches in the City (well, not him because he was already dead). It was a traditional march with the drummers and majorettes. You had the girls twirl the batons and the boys with the trumpets and drums. In fact, it was the only parade with a black marching band and it was made up almost entirely of young people in Philadelphia. There were some older people there too, but it’s mostly young performers.
He was shot during registering voters at 9th and South Street right here in Philadelphia. His murderer, I think he went unidentified for 10 years, I think. And later he was identified but never brought to justice. His murder occurred in 1870 and went completely unnoticed by historians. O. V Catto was a hero and he has finally been acknowledged by a statue at City Hall. He was before his time, but he had courage because back in those days, Philadelphia was no different from Georgia and Alabama in terms of racism.

Missed the Best Day Happy Hour? Click here to read a recap and see all the photos.

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Off The Clock (Mike)

As you probably know from reading all of my posts for the past few months, we hosted a Happy Hour at the City Tap House in Logan Square. I was expecting to see a lot of people from Best Day, and new people interested in our group. I did, but not quite in the way I expected.
As it turns out, Best Day was sharing the restaurant with two different groups with their own Happy Hour meet-ups. That meant that some of the new people coming over to check out our group...were from one of the other groups! I even met one guy who wasn't with any group; he was just hanging out at the bar. When I told him about Best Day, he was reminded of his father back in Brazil and the stories he'd wanted to share. I made sure to give him the link to our site before he left.

I also got to see my old friends at the event, like Jana, Mary, Cara and the fearless founder herself, Benita. Cara and I didn't know each other that well, but I recognized her face as soon as I saw her, and that made her happy. I still had photocopies of Jana and Mary's stories from the last time they were at Best Day, so I took them with me as soon as Jana said she'd be coming. I even got to introduce the newest facilitator Kara to all the people working behind the scenes, and she and Benita got on very well.

I was very excited to meet the various board members and volunteers of Best Day. There was Euney who ran the newsletter, Charlton from the Board of Members, and Diane the Professional Engagement Director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, to name a few. But one of the best parts was meeting Melissa, who came with her father...our own Mike M. Tsuei!

We weren't talking for more than a minute before Mike and Melissa invited me to sit with them. And when Kara came in, they invited her too. It's rare for our older buds to be able to make late-night events like these, so I took full advantage of Mike and Melissa's welcoming friendliness. Every so often when I was telling the new people about what Best Day meant to its member, I would direct them to Mike's table, sit them down, and let our older bud do the rest. Diane spent the rest of the night talking to him, and Benita said he was the prefect Best Day representative. All in all, a successful night and hopefully the prelude to many more people meeting our older buds.

Please enjoy another example of Mike reaching out to non-seniors, from a pen-pal letter he wrote back in June.

Michael T 
Dear Friend
Dear Friend,
Hi Titon. How are you? I love your letter – it is very interesting. I am much older than you! In fact, 60 years older.
While I was a young man, I am very much enjoyed working in the gym. Back then, no one even called it “pumping iron.” We just found the heavy objects to lift them up in the air and try to build up our body muscle.
Now, I am retired. I was a heart doctor for my profession. Now, I am just enjoying my day, going to the Philadelphia Senior Citizen Center, learning all the different subjects they have to offer to me.
My favorite food is nuts and honey.
I wish you all the luck in school.
Thank you for writing to us. 

Your friend,
Michael T

P.S. I was not kidding about taking Senior Selfie-style photos with anyone who wanted to.
And if you're looking for the Veterans Day story, then scroll down. It's right below.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Onstage (Dolores)

Last week, I wrote about a Veterans Day event taking place at the Philadelphia Senior Center, where veterans would go onstage and share their stories. Best Day has three veterans, Norman, Mo, and Mike, and all three of them expressed interest. Unfortunately, while the rest of Best Day was in the audience, none of our veterans were able to make it. And when it came time for the PSC veterans to share their stories, not a single one did.
We thought that the assembly would end there, but somebody stood up and talked about her friend, a late Tuskegee Airman, and how much he meant to her. Then someone else stood up and talked about the servicemen in their life. Then our very own Dolores stood up and talked about her brother who had been in the Air Force. And so on, and so forth. And we made sure our veterans knew they were honored.
A little later, I caught up with Mike and told him about the assembly. He said that a lot of veterans don't feel comfortable sharing their stories, let alone onstage. Yet Norman and Mo were more than happy to share their war stories with the rest of the older buds. I'm honored that they trusted us with their past as soldiers, and with how their past influenced their present opinions.
Before we move on to our weekly story, I would like to give a great big thank you to the men and women in uniform. I don't think I could ever do what you do every day.
Dolores Wilson 
Soaking in Pink Rain 

The tender drops of water washed over her soul. It removed all ill-intentions and beauty began to unfold. 
Deep in the rocky places of her hurt. Hidden from sight a pile of dirt. It was a refuse from shame and blame. Now to fit a picture perfectly framed.
After the Veteran's Day Assembly, The Best Day of My Life So Far hosted a Happy Hour fundraiser at the City Tap House in Logan Square. I will be posting about that event later today, so stay tuned.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri