Senior volunteers sought for oral history project

New program is looking for seniors to share their stories with students

December 15, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Charlotte Levens is the intergenerational program coordinator with Washington County Commission on Aging. She started the Intergenerational Oral History Project in which students will interview seniors. She is seeking volunteers for the program.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — History doesn’t linger only in textbooks.

It can be found in older relatives and friends who reminisce about important events and recite kinships like litanies.

There is a great-grandfather who fought in World War II, a family acquaintance who watched man land on the moon, the next-door neighbor who drove a Model-T Ford.

To hear their stories brings history to life and is a seamless link to the past.
That’s why Charlotte Levens is excited about a project that will be offered in January by the Washington County Commission on Aging.

Through an oral history project, young students will have an opportunity to learn what life was like decades before they were born — by simply getting people to talk.

It’s an added dimension of storytelling — connecting to another era through the spoken word.

As intergenerational program coordinator with the local Commission on Aging, Levens' goal for the project is to reach both home schooled and public school students.


"I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for children and adults," she said. "I think it will be fun and I think the young people will find it interesting."

The intergenerational program is under the auspices of the Washington County Commission on Aging’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
"The point," she added, "is to get kids to make a connection with an older generation."

Levens said it’s the sort of history that might be lost if not captured in an oral method.

"I think now, with regrets, that I didn’t spend more time talking to my grandparents,” she said. “I could have learned so much from them."

That’s why she stresses that "grandma isn’t just the person who brings you presents." She can bring you another type of gift — the gift of your past.
Levens said the project still is in the planning stages but she already has a vision of how it will work.

The program currently is geared to students in grades third through fifth, she said.

Each group will consist of anywhere between five and 12 children of mixed ages, with one-third serving as reporters asking the questions, one-third serving as scribes and one-third as artists creating renditions of what is being said.
Levens said seniors 55 and older will talk to each group about their life experiences.

"As the oldest person around here, I’m doing the first session," Levens, who is in her 80s, said. "I’m really looking forward to it."

Levens said the concept is simple: select a topic and go with it.

"For instance, refrigeration. When I was a child, I didn’t have a refrigerator," she said. "I had an ice box. The ice man came to our house and filled it up with ice, this is how it worked and this is the kind of food we stored in it."

It’s simply a startup topic, she said — something to generate questions from young people that could veer off to a variety of other topics, all providing a glimpse into what life was like years ago.

The program also will incorporate a timeline, she said.

"As an example, I could mark my birth date and the children would have to mathematically figure out how old I am," she said.

Levens said she is looking forward to reaching out to young people through the program and sees a lot of possibilities.

She currently is seeking senior volunteers to participate in the program.
"I already have a list of people who I think would do a great job," she said. "I just have to entice them."

Levens said she is entering her third year as intergenerational program coordinator. She grew up in Boston and was an educator for more than 40 years. Now, her teaching tools continue to be put to good use.

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