About five years ago, Benita Cooper started a storytelling group in the basement of the Philadelphia Senior Center. Four seniors attended. Then a few more. Eventually, that first storytelling group spun off into another group.
Soon, there were groups springing up at retirement homes and libraries across the city. The organization evolved into what has become The Best Day of My Life So Far, a nationwide nonprofit (AARP has partnered with them) with hubs in retirement homes, senior centers and libraries from Seattle to Chicago to New Jersey.
“We aren’t just empowering seniors,” Cooper explained. “The seniors are empowering everybody who listens.”
Since the organization’s inception, Cooper has been compiling the seniors’ stories in a blog. Now, she wants to take the stories and the storytellers offline, out of the senior centers, and into neighborhoods. She’s calling it Story Pop Up.
“We want to reinforce the human connection in an inter-generational way,” said Cooper. “We don’t want the stories just floating virtually. We want to keep them alive through face-to-face interaction.”
By bringing the seniors out of their traditional or typical settings, Story Pop Up gives younger generations who might normally never step into a senior setting a chance to stumble upon these storytelling groups taking place in cafes and small businesses.
What kind of stories are the seniors telling?
“I tell stories about what would happen on my grandfather’s cotton and tobacco farm in South Carolina,” said Norman Cain, 72, a Philadelphia resident and member of one of the storytelling groups. “As a kid I was beaten up by roosters, chased by cows, pulled around the pastures by goats – that’s one of the more humorous stories.”
In the storybook Cooper has compiled, she categorizes the stories by theme – art, challenges, culture, family, friendship, fun, identity, life lessons, living in history and romance.
“One man, he’s been here four or five years,” Cain said. “His primary mission is to write his stories so his grandchildren will be able to [understand] what his life has been.”
The effect these stories have had on younger generations is noteworthy. In this video, an unsuspecting Starbucks patron named Krista is nearly brought to tears by one of the storytellers’ pieces.
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“When people sit and see the pride and joy in these seniors, they might feel better about growing older themselves,” Cooper said. “Everybody is making everybody else stronger.”
Whether or not they meet their crowdfunding goal on October 31, Best Day of My Life So Far’s Story Pop Up will be hitting the streets with the funds they’ve raised so far. To learn more about the Story Pop Up, you can visit their IndieGoGo campaign page.
Images via The Best Day of My Life-30-
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