Senior citizens rediscover their creative voices

By Erika DeLeo
Staff Writer

In a small room adorned with watercolor and oil paintings, five women gathered to recount stories from their pasts.

Two college students, Colleen Fitzgerald and Ty Kipling, facilitate a series of writing workshops with residents of the Prescott senior living facility, Good Samaritan. The two are students and teachers at once.
They are enrolled in “Writers in the Community,” a college course that visits eight local centers and provides writing classes free of charge.

Fitzgerald says she has learned from the women’s openness and willingness to share their stories without hesitation. In the classroom at Good Samaritan, the women trickled in with warm smiles and greetings, and settled on couches and overstuffed chairs around a coffee table. Judging from their expressions, it was apparent that they looked forward to this time.

Prescott College instructor Melanie Bishop sat off to the side, pen ready to take notes on the facilitation of her own students, Kipling and Fitzgerald. The two students handed out copies of a story by Jamaica Kincaid entitled “Girl.” Fitzgerald read the story aloud, a long list of advice written from a mother to her daughter. The piece dealt how to do laundry and how to abort a child, and much in between.

The student facilitators encouraged the women to reflect on advice they have received from their own mothers and in their own lives. “Think of someone who was present in your life who has given you lots of advice. Let the dialogue tell all that needs to be told,” Fitzgerald instructed. The participants spent fifteen minutes reaching through decades of experience to recall words of wisdom. Then, they shared.

“Write thank-you cards. Say more than thank you. Be specific,” began Fitzgerald, for inspiration.

“Be ready to sacrifice everything for those around you,” added Kipling.

“Mind your manners,” said JoAnn, a resident.

“Competition teaches how to handle failure and success,” said Helen, a resident.

Bishop was pleased with the work of her students. She said to them, “The women already have developed a great rapport with each other and with you two. There was an air of excitement, like they really do look forward to the writing workshops you’re facilitating.”

“I’ve never enjoyed anything this much. [Bishop] sent us the cream of the crop,” said Audrie, referring to Kipling and Fitzgerald.

Helen added her appreciation, “It’s getting in touch with my life, which I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. What’s great about this class is that we’re getting in touch with ourselves, and that will make us better writers.”

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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