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