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