October 15, 2019 —Everyone loves a good story. Whether it be told from a good book, a movie, around a campfire, or perhaps even a theatrical performance. But what about in retirement with a cast that is both inter-generational and multicultural? That is what the residents of the Kendal at Longwood Inter-generational Initiatives Committee set out to do – to tell a good story but to perhaps even more so, to make everlasting friendships and improve their communities.
The residents set out on a project that is based on the international story exchange model called Narrative4, founded in 2011 by Irish author Colum McCann and his colleague, Lisa Consiglio. Narrative4 has more traditionally focused on youth but they were really excited about the Kendal emphasis on creating an inter-generational model. The focus of Narrative4 is bringing together people who would normally not talk together, to bridge divides, create empathy and understanding and turn that into action to improve their communities – through storytelling and fellowship. With a grant awarded through the Kendal Affiliate Grant Application process, the residents were funded and set out on fulfilling their project.
Committee member and resident, Andrea Taylor traveled to New York in September 2018 to get trained as a Narrative4 facilitator. Along with fellow resident and committee chair, Betty Warner, and Lincoln University faculty member, Marilyn Button, they led a group of resident volunteers and students from nearby Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University, into an inspired and transformative experience.
At first, several gatherings took place with the residents and the students in order to get to know one another, build trust, and to learn a little bit more about the each other. Dinners, tours of the Kendal and Lincoln campus, ice breaker exercises, excursions, etc. all led to the actual story exchange which took place on March 15, 2019. “It was exciting to see the relationships that developed, the trust between the students and residents, and the mutual learning that took place. I am moved when I think about it”, says Taylor. The finale of the project was a performance in April at Kendal at Longwood by the students to celebrate their journey and their new friendships. Essence Hayes, a participating student from Lincoln University sums up the experience as, “the story exchange project opened my heart to being more vulnerable while teaching me how to be more empathetic.”
“We see this project as a vehicle that could further establish Kendal as a leader in transforming the role of older adults in their communities. There is potential for widespread outreach using this model not only in our local community but in other senior communities, organizations, inter-generational activities, and more”, says Warner.