MRU Students Record Life Stories
In the spring of 2015, MRU’s English program and United Active Living, managers of the Garrison Green seniors’ residence, embarked on a joint project to pair our students with resident seniors in a Life Writing project. Some of the residents had expressed an interest in finding ways to tell and capture their stories, and they identified their childhood experiences of the Great Depression as a starting point. First introduced by Elaine Danelesko (Program Director in Continuing Education and Extension), David Hyttenrauch (Chair of English Languages, and Cultures) and Gail Hinchliffe (CEO of United Active Living) were soon joined by dedicated staff from Garrison Green and creative writing faculty from Mount Royal to develop the partnership.
In September, six upper-year students gathered together with Garrison Green staff and MRU faculty for an orientation to launch the partnership. Students approached mentors Richard Harrison, Beth Everest and Natalie Meisner to help supervise their work, and met periodically with their mentors through the term. Kim Coulter, UAL’s Community Outreach Co-Ordinator, worked closely with students to orient them to Garrison Green and its residents, including some of the challenges they might face; she then personally paired students with the residents she thought most suitable. The value of her hands-on approach was evident over time as genuine, trusting and productive relationships developed between students and their resident partners. Students in particular had to demonstrate a high degree of independence and resilience as the project changed dynamically over time.
The culmination of the six resident-student partnerships on 10 December was a public reading of selections of the Life Writing produced, held jointly with a book launch for a publication of the final projects. The event brought together not only the students and residents, but faculty and staff from MRU; beyond those direct and indirect participants, students’ and residents’ friends and families also attended and had a chance to meet. Hearing the readings was a deeply moving experience and the audience showed rapt attention throughout.
The project marked an important foray to community learning for the English program. It was a remarkable opportunity to align the two organizations and their processes and cultures, but most importantly to bridge a divide between generations and capture stories that might otherwise be lost. All the participants have grown tremendously through the experience, and plans are underway to continue and expand the project beginning in Winter 2016.
Experience our students and United Active Living residents inaugural reading of their Life Writing project (Video courtesy of United Active Living. Copyright United Active Living).