Gray Matters
by Cate Murway

The graying world is an ongoing event without precedent in the history of humanity.
Jointly, let’s take an intergenerational initiative and envision an active infrastructure with links between students and elders, the sleeping giants, who still have so much to offer and share as lifelong learners. 
Together the Borough youth and the “seasoned citizens” will give the “gray matter” a workout every day of the year! This venture will integrate and authenticate the teaching and learning of the language arts and the effort will be backed up with the meaningful, in-depth, personal relationships developed.

“Everyone is the age of their heart.”  Guatemalan Proverb

Everyone’s senior picture gradually ages to a picture of a senior.

“It's a mere moment in a man's life between an All-Star Game and an Old-timers' Game.” 
Vincent Edward [Vin] Scully [American sportscaster]

“Senior moments”, an insulting, derogatory phrase that associates aging with deficiency and memory loss, should be classified as cherished and valued and called instead,  “wisdom talk”. 

“I still have a full deck; I just shuffle slower now.” Author Unknown

Images of competence can be ascertained from the older adult’s sense of completeness and meaning; and virtue can be tied with their experiences. Locked in the minds and hearts of these Borough residents, the seniors can remember a joy and sense of triumph associated with their surviving and aging. Together we can seize an opportunity to share knowledge and make a difference in our lives, reaffirming a sense of hope for humanity. This is a process of collaborating and consulting and especially learning about the past through primary sources. A love of history drives librarians, scholars and nonprofit and government agencies to keep our past alive.

“The years teach much which the days never knew.” American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson

The result of the think tank spearheaded by Loretta M. Vasso, M.S., CAC, Community Mobilizer for the Bristol Borough Community Partnership [BBCP] and Director of the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library, Mary Jane Mannherz is the “Oral History Project”. Bristol Borough History and Culture Initiative included representatives from 11 different non-profit organizations serving the residents of the Borough. This group came up with about 10 ideas of projects that would preserve the history of the Borough and interest visitors in learning more. The Oral History Project and the audio Walking Tour are the first steps in accomplishing this goal. Seniors continue to be outstanding in their career fields, starting new careers, making the world better or proving outstanding mental and physical fitness. This unified “high touch / high tech” multi-dimensional agenda will add an emotional component- the 7th & 8th graders of St. Ann and Bristol Middle Schools will interview Borough residents from various generations and ethnic groups. Audiotapes will preserve the tone of voice and the elder’s attitudes and emotions. No fill-in-the-blank exercises, short answer assessments, or total left-brain mode thinking! The participating students will collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the artifacts of human experience, an enlightening discovery in the voices and firsthand perspective recollections of the folks themselves of growing up in Bristol. The question/answer connection, the conduit between the youth and the elder, permits history to come alive through stimulating dialogues and exchanging opportunities and new ideas with the aging population. This work in progress will become a time of interaction, engagement and entertainment.

“Never lose sight of the fact that old age needs so little but needs that little so much.”  Margaret Willour 

The model for this project, that has generated an outpouring of interest, was developed by Richard [Dick] “Elmer” [named after his grandfather] Heyler, Cowanesque Valley H.S. ‘65/PSU ‘73/ Mansfield University/Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA Masters in English, who teaches at Harlan Rowe Junior High School. The co-author of  “The Oral History Project, Connecting Students to Their Community”, who has taught writing for more than twenty years and speaks nationally and locally about oral history and writing, exclaimed, “Bristol is surrounded by great people. I received such an open arms of warmth reception.”
Per Dick, “This is not just a school program; it weaves its fingers through the community.
Bristol will bring the Oral History to another level with the different ethnic groups.”

“The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.”  
Arthur Schopenhauer [19th century German philosopher]

Shawn William Foley, Conwell Egan Catholic ’09, a member of E.A.S.T. [Environmental & Spatial Technologies], using technology for community service, will be documenting the project using VT4 and FinalCut Pro editing production tool programs. The audio recordings will be produced for lending purposes and may possibly accompany the already existing “Walking Tour” of Bristol Borough by Historian Harold Dodson Mitchener and actor/ BRT Artistic Director, [Edward] Keith Baker. The Library Director, Mary Jane Mannherz, asked Shawn, who offers his assistance as a library page, for his support in the project. The Grundy Library is also interested in preserving the histories on archival paper to become a segment of their permanent collections.

“You can't turn back the clock.  But you can wind it up again”.  
Bonnie Prudden [author, pioneering advocate of physical fitness]

At 100, self-taught artist Anna Mary Robertson aka Grandma Moses continued painting and versatile Italian painter, Tiziano Vecellio ‘Titian’ still painted when he was 98. At 93, author George Bernard Shaw wrote Farfetched Fables. At 90, Pablo Picasso still drew and engraved. At 89, pianist Arthur Rubinstein gave one of his greatest recitals in New York's Carnegie Hall; at 82, Winston Churchill wrote the four-volume work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; at 81, Benjamin Franklin engineered the diplomacy, which led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”  
Samuel Ullman [favorite poet of General Douglas MacArthur]

The students will sharpen their language arts abilities and uncover new competencies as they select an interviewee and compose open-ended questions that generate great stories and assemble background knowledge. They will learn to refine broad opening queries into focused penetrating questions that yield rich responses and a wealth of evocative information, steering the conversation onto interesting, useful, exhilarating ground.  This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students to ask some of the oldest people they know, what major lessons they learned in life and what it was like to grow up in Bristol Borough
This will stitch together relationships between students and community members, a time when friendship and simple human compassion are far more powerful than any differences, as they compose an article that will document and share the subject's oral history and personal memoirs from the person's point of view.
This exchange may provide more meaning, stability and security within their lives, for in times of change or transition, all humans need to be reassured that someone or something holds the world together.

“Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.” British poet and playwright, Robert Browning

The seniors can reminisce about birthdays, historical events, and humorous incidents in their past. Ultimately, all the assembled parts will create a cohesive oral and visual triptych [pronounced "trip-tick", a work divided into a three sectioned presentation]. 

As representative of the Bristol Borough School District, reading specialist teacher and Title 1 federal program coordinator, Mary [Younglove] Gesualdi, Bishop Conwell ‘68/Trenton State‘77/ College of N.J Principalship ’85, will help organize volunteers to assist the children to do background work, record their interviews, take summarizing notes and finally make presentations. The culture of bygone eras and chronicled lives can be found in artifacts like recipes, bottles and photos. Perhaps an old photo album will be displayed, who are those people with the ancient cars?

“It takes a long time to become young.” child prodigy Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso

The Bristol Borough History and Culture Initiative, through the generous United Way of Bucks County grant, presents a unified approach to increasing self-awareness, bringing together the plethora of facets of Bristol’s past, present and future. Bristol Middle School has an existing “club” structure for the 190 students to meet for an 8-10 week period and “the social studies/history classes of St. Ann School will work on topics related to this initiative”, per Sister Mary Donald, Principal.
Community members and organizations wishing to get involved to yield this lasting cultural wealth product, may contact Loretta Vasso.

“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”  Author Unknown

Loretta M. Vasso, M.S., CAC
Bristol Borough Community Partnership
[Family Service Association of Bucks County]
2 Canal’s Ends Road
Suite 201-G
Bristol, PA  19007
215.781.6602 x 101

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