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Telling Your Life Story

Workshops Can Bring Out the Creative in Our Elders


Telling Your Life Story

Capturing Your Life Story Benefit All Generations

@Peter Dazeley, Getty Images

There’s an old saying in journalism, “Everyone has a story”. Activity directors know this is true. But how do you draw out the fascinating tales of your residents’ lives in a way which preserves and shares this unique view of history? How do you help them to tell their life story?

Barbara Lee Sherf has the answer. She conducts writing workshops with small groups of residents as well as in one-on-one sessions to produce personalized articles, booklets, books and/or DVDs as mini-biographies to share with family and friends.

Sherf, a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, created her business, Capture Life Stories in 2010. It grew from the process of Sherf and her father co-writing a book detailing his years on the rodeo circuit called, Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached.

As friends learned about the book Sherf heard more and more comments of, “I wish I had done that with my father, mother etc.” And a company to provide these personalized histories was born.

Capture Life Stories has benefits for residents, their families and activity directors at independent retirement communities, assisted living facilities and senior centers.

“The benefits for residents is the process engages their minds and memories by asking questions, utilizing worksheets, etc.

For the families, the benefits are invaluable - a memory keeping gift that continues to give for generations to come. The basis of the story will likely serve as the person's obituary so that the facility and family are not 'scrambling' when the time comes,” Sherf said.

“For the facility, especially when hosting a non-resident open house introducing them to the facility and what it has to offer, Capture Life Stories is a compelling lure.”

The costs of the program depend on the depth of the finished product, Sherf said. A group workshop includes 2+ hours on-site and the cost of all handouts. For an additional per person charge, participants will receive a copy of the book, The Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived Not Preached. A facility can choose a six part ongoing workshop series with residents. And a personalized DVD life story,depending on location and length, is another option.

There is another offer for activity directors, Sherf will interview, write, print and frame A Life Story Article. The framed article, usually featuring a new resident, can be placed in a lobby for a week or so to introduce a new resident to the community. Afterwards the framed article can be given to the resident for their apartment or room.

Capturing Life Stories has been used in retirement communities in Southeastern Pennsylvania. One resident, Lula Pidcock Mohr, whose ancestors were the first settlers in Bucks County, told her story in celebration of her 93rd birthday. One excerpt from Pidcock’s story recalls her childhood memory of what it took to have chicken for dinner during the Great Depression.

“My grandfather would choose a chicken to slaughter and I had to run around the yard and corner it. Then my mother would boil the chicken and she and I would pluck the feathers off of it,” Pidcock said. “We had to make do with what was on the land; growing our own produce, harvesting eggs, and doing the best we could.”

Her story also revealed tragedy such as the day the family barn burnt down while the family was attending church. There were also small triumphs including the day her uncle brought electricity to their home. Large and small events in Pidcock’s life might have gone unknown to the next generation without Pidcock’s taking part in the Capturing Life Stories program.

Lisa Seonia, Marketing Director at Spring Mill Presbyterian Village, has seen the benefits to her residents. “Barbara was able to captivate an audience and break down the process of capturing your life story into doable tasks. Her enthusiasm for the subject is quite apparent and we look forward to having her back again,” Seonia said.

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