Inter-generational writing program wraps, but friendships remain

·3 min read

Chatter filled River Ridge Seniors Village’s recreation room Thursday, as students and residents wrapped up the final session of Imagination Alive, an inter-generational creative writing program.

The program, began in 2018, is operated by Medicine Hat’s Lifelong Education and Resource Network (LEARN), in partnership with the city’s public school division and with funding from the City of Medicine Hat.

The five-week program pairs high school students and seniors living with dementia and challenges them to collaboratively conceptualize and write short stories. Usually meeting for one-hour, twice weekly, students and seniors generate several stories over the course of the program, which are then compiled and published in a book.

Stories follow no specific format, as students and seniors choose from a series of random photographs, then build the story around such. This method encourages both parties to explore ideas without limitations, while also preventing stress for the seniors, who are sometimes challenged by dementia-altered thinking.

“The notion of using random input as provocation, is a stimulant for imagination (which) focuses on the notion of creativity rather than, specifically, on memory,” Deborah Forbes, LEARN executive director, told the News. “Aspects of oral history make their way in, but the stories do not have the pressures of accurate oral history.”

Forbes is excited to see what kind of stories program participants submit for the upcoming book. Stories written by previous program participants ranged from humorous, to mysterious, to romantic.

Thursday’s session was dedicated to editing final story drafts, however with Timbit containers on each table and laughter echoing around the room, it more closely resembled a social between friends.

“The astonishingly joyful result of these generations working together is that the high school students love their seniors – many want to continue to visit after the program concludes – and the seniors feel valued and challenged,” Forbes said.

Even though the program only runs five weeks, many participants create life-long bonds, program lead Deanna Arelis finds.

“It allows them to have a way of communicating which opens up so many doors to their building relationships,” Arelis said.

Program participant Orca says she doesn’t particularly enjoy reading or writing stories, but loves spending time with the students in her group.

And her group members are just as fond of her.

“We spent this time with someone becoming friends with them,” Hannah, Orca’s student group partner, said.

“I really enjoy (the program) because I find it is able to unite different generations and share a common experience,” group member Kohen said. “We can connect to an older generation, and through making art. So, I’m personally passionate about it.”

Forbes says other students have provided feedback to her which confirmed the program has changed how they view and interact with seniors, especially those with dementia.

She believes the program will have a lasting impact on all parties involved and hopes the soon-to-be-published book of stories will serve as a reminder of the fun students and seniors had while creating it.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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