Below is a look at some of the rigorous research supporting our trademarked methods. Feel free to contact us for additional details and full articles.
Researchers and Their Methodology
- Professional social work and psychology researchers affiliated with the following universities have evaluated our program closely and provided written support for our methods and outcomes:
- Drexel University’s Department of Neurology, School of Medicine
- Long Island University’s Social Work Department
- Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies
- Rutgers University’s Department of Psychology
- University of South Australia’s School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy
- A dedicated research team from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has evaluated our program closely and provided written support for our organizational effectiveness and program scalability.
- AARP Pennsylvania has conducted internal reviews of our methods and outcomes, with a focus on our executive director’s leadership and ability to train others to scale the program.
- Research methods included detailed content and data analysis, focus groups, participant surveys, reader surveys, case studies, interviews with participants, family members and program facilitators, and observations of sessions.
- Findings have been presented at major professional conferences such as American Society on Aging’s National Conference and Australian Association of Gerontology’s National Conference.
- Findings have been published in professional journals such as Professional Journal of Activities, Adaptation, and Aging.
Highlights of Program Outcomes
Benefits for older adult participants:
- Decreased social and technological isolation
- Decreased symptoms of depression
- Decreased symptoms of anxiety
- Increased compliance with medical regimens
- Increased health-promoting behaviors such as diet and exercise
- Increased participation in additional social activities
- Increased appreciation for technology and social media
- Improved communication with family members and caregivers
Additional benefits for older adult participants and intergenerational community members:
- Improved communication with other generations
- Increased involvement in the local community
- Improved communication with people from different cultural and economical backgrounds
- Increased sense of freedom to make choices and decisions
- Increased sense of purpose, enrichment and fulfillment
- Increased appreciation for history
- Improved literacy and language skills
- Improved understanding of self and increased sense of self-worth
- Improved quality of life
- “As this article demonstrates, the project has reached an international audience…, facilitated the use of technology for older adults who participated in the program, improved self-reported health and wellness of participants by increasing self-esteem and socialization, and provided intergenerational engagement… Results show that participants benefited from the program by having a vehicle to tell their story and an activity that fulfilled social needs. Additionally, community members benefited from and learned about participants in a way that utilizes efficient modes of communication and media… Findings support the intergenerationality of this program in that it was able to connect older adults with younger generations both in person and virtually.” – Published study of our work by Chonody and Wang, “Connecting Older Adults to the Community through Multimedia: An Intergenerational Reminiscence Program”
- “The Best Day of My Life So Far experience incorporates many important factors that have been shown to promote positive cognitive, psychological and health outcomes, including social interaction, cognitive activity and emotional expression.” – Tania Giovannetti, Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychology, Temple University
- “The Best Day of My Life So Far is an amazing project providing a link between generations and a platform for community growth and development. If [it] could be expanded at the local and national level, the positive impact this could have on our culture is incalculable. The positive energy [it] brings to its participants is infectious, and hopefully more people will be inspired to help in the effort.” – Sean Duffy, Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University
Comparison to Other Programs
The Best Day model is scalable. It has a simple structure that has been successfully implemented at diverse locations nationwide. In a recent survey, 100% of the volunteers and site supervisors implementing the program reported that the program is High Quality or Very High Quality, based on the transformations they have witnessed in participants’ and their own lives.
Research indicates that the Best Day model is unique in its ability to deliver a full range of cognitive, psychological and health outcomes.
Compared to typical senior health programs involving medication and/or traditional therapy, the Best Day model is low-budget for hosting venues to implement.
Large-Scale Community Impact
The Best Day model is an intergenerational platform for community growth and development. It engages a vast number of all-ages community members to create large-scale social change.
Social media is an integral part of the participant experience, and is utilized as a tool for participants’ health improvement.
Key Program Components and Their Benefits
- Social Engagement
- Participants expressed a great deal of appreciation for the group leader/volunteers and the family- like atmosphere created by group members. They indicated how much they cared for group members and how much they valued their attendance at the weekly class (Chonody, 2013).
- Research indicates that mutual support and friendship can develop from group processes (Coleman, 2005), reduce social isolation, and improve quality of life (Buchannan et al., 2002).
- The upper 10% of consistently very happy people are highly social, and have stronger social relationships than less happy groups. They do not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events. No variable is sufficient for happiness, but good social relations are necessary (Seligman, 2002).
- Elders who are active readers and writers use literacy as a social as well as a personal process; that is, reading and writing help them connect to others (Kazemak, 1997).
- Technological Engagement
- [Comments from family members and community members] illustrate that older adults’ stories can have impact beyond “telling a story.” Using mechanisms such as a blog, Facebook, and Twitter can be effective ways of memorializing cherished thoughts and memories and offer an accessible way from community members to get to know older adults “virtually.” This could be one step in fostering relationships between older adults and younger generations that may lead to innovative ways of relating with one another. Just as the Internet is a mechanism for younger generations to get to know one another, perhaps even before meeting one another, this could well be the case for intergenerational connections. Because anxiety about older adults and visiting places where older adults may convene (such as senior centers and nursing homes) has been documented, “breaking the ice” ahead of time may reduce these fears and help to bridge intergenerational gaps (Chonody, 2012).
- Intergenerational Engagement (connections across generations in the greater community and within families, with benefits for people of ages)
- This project and the writings of these older adults helped foster intergenerational understanding and improved family relations (Chonody, 2013).
- [Comments from family members and community members] illustrate a number of key aspects of the program. First, this program is achieving its goal of intergenerational connection, and younger generations have a genuine interest in older adults’ stories. Second, there is an element of “surprise” of something unknown or unexpected in the lives of older adults, and in some instances, pride in older adults and/or the community. For example, some responses indicated how they could now see a particular older adult as multifaceted with a bevy of rich experiences. These realizations can be crucial in combating ageism, stereotypes, and increasing the “humanization” of getting older.”
- This program helps seniors connect with their families through storytelling to pass on lessons and values (Wharton, 2012). A recent study found that grandparents see their role as shapers of another generation. Specifically, grandparents mentioned the importance of passing on values and helping their grandchildren develop morally and spiritually (AARP, 2012).
- Stories passed on from generation to generation create “communities of memory”: communities in which people, old and young, are linked together (Kazemak, 1997).
- Older adults want to remain productive and engaged in the community. A way to prevent isolation in their later years is to increase interaction with children and youth (Carlson, Seeman and Fried, 2000). 45% of Americans working in retirement say they want to work with youth (Princeton Survey Research Associates International).
- Interacting with older adults enables younger people to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, positive attitudes towards aging, a sense of purpose and community service (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2005).
- Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school (Tierney, Grossman and Resch, 2000).
- The life storytelling process allows younger people to explore identity by finding the balance between their inner thoughts and their place in the community (Halverson, 2011).
- This program has created an intergenerational program that brings together members from different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and experiences. Intergenerational programs bring together diverse groups and networks and help to dispel inaccurate and negative stereotypes (Wharton, 2012).
- Cognitive Activity (executive brain functions related to problem solving, decision making and emotional self-regulation)
- Creative activity has been shown to reduce depression and isolation in seniors by offering the power of choice and decisions, two aspects that seniors may feel they are losing. Choice and creativity go hand in hand with optimizing health and longevity (Cohen, 2001). A study on nursing homes indicates that 75% of the residents displayed signs of depression and delirium, suggesting that there is a need for engaging activities that improve the mental health of seniors (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2003-2007).
- Reminiscence Activity
- Reminiscence represents a significant component of applied psychogerontology (Coleman, 2005). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “psychogerontology” as a branch of psychiatry concerned with behavioral and emotional disorders among the elderly.
- Storytelling, or creating personal narratives, can be an integral component of a persons’ life. The chance to tell one’s “story” can foster a deeper understanding of the past (Richeson & Thorson, 2002) and facilitate relationships between oneself and others (Coleman, 2005), which can contribute to an increased quality of life (Richeson & Thorson, 2002). Although it may seem that storytelling is purely anecdotal, it is theoretically based in the therapeutic literature. Butler (1963) first wrote about the life review process based on his experiences as a therapist and described it as an essential component of reconciling end-of-life issues. Life review is rooted in the last stage of Erickson’s developmental theory: ego integrity versus despair. During this stage, older adults reflect back on their life to derive a sense of accomplishment and meaning (Erikson, 1950). Contrary to ageist beliefs that older adults are “living in the past” or “telling the same stories over and over again,” the retelling of these stories can have therapeutic value in that certain life events may be processed. Stories that older adults tell are “both the place of beginning and the end result of life review” (Caldwell, 2005, p. 173). These stories can be powerful because “they tell us not only who we are but who we have been and who we can be” (Rappaport, 1995, p. 796).
- Reminiscence therapy acknowledges that, as part of the human life cycle, older adults need to integrate their life experiences and tie up “loose ends” (Soltys & Kunz, 2007). As a result, older adults may experience a new perspective, closure, gratification, and/or resolution (Soltys & Kunz, 2007). For many older adults, reminiscence is a normative event, and the group process can facilitate exploration and sharing.
- Emotional Expression
- One of the key findings from the focus groups was that participants felt that their involvement in the writing class helped them to express themselves through their writing. This expression was described by one participant as “coming from the inside,” meaning deep feelings and emotions, rather than casual expression and conversation (Chonody, 2013).
- Researchers found that [for seniors] writing centered around the “need to remember being loved in the past and to feel loved today” (Becker, Blumenfield, and Gordon, 1984).
- This program provides a platform for seniors to write as an avenue to personal enrichment (Kaminsky, 1985):
- To continue learning
- To draw upon unused skills, experience, and knowledge
- To satisfy their need for continued accomplishment
- To communicate with themselves and others
- To become more observant of what is going on in their daily lives
- To master potentially overwhelming experiences
- To transmit their life experience to those who come after them
Testimonials by Participants and Community Members
- Social Engagement
- “I’ve met a lot of different peoples of all kinds and all colors. Because we are all human beings and we live in the same world, I come to the group each week and learn a lot. I told my family and my children. They are all very, very happy for me. I look forward to each Thursday of every week. When I come here we all have a good day, so that’s why I call it ‘The Best Day of My Life’.” – Bobby Leung
- “It gives me a laugh every time I come to group.” – Isadora Fields
- “I have met many new friends!” – Michael Chan Man-Tin
- “I love coming to writing group because everyone is so pleasant and I love hearing the stories written by group members. This is about my fourth session and my enjoyment has increased with each class. Also, with each class I discover something new about myself… I’ve never before belonged to a group and trusting people in groups had never been easy.” – Josie Miller
- “With all the people here in writing class being so nice, I forget about all the other difficult things going on in my life when I am here.” – Loretta Gaither
- “During my first session with the group, I was immediately in a comfort zone and found the founder, Benita Cooper, although young, a wise leader. She is mature, showed compassion, organization capabilities and dedication. I could feel the camaraderie that encased the room and delighted in the stories being told by a multi-racial group… This program has helped me tremendously. It is the first organization that I have been a part of in over 50 years. Even loners need people that they can feel comfortable around.” – Norman Cain
- Technological Engagement
- “[My daughter] was amazed at the content on the blog and tickled to see her mom’s picture and the poetry she had written. From our conversation the next day, I saw that she viewed me differently, not as “same old, same old” but a person with a definite past and one that was still on a journey. I suppose I surprised her, and her eyes and heart were opened to a new experience regarding her mom.” – Bri Kurmue
- “Dear Blog Readers, It is my understanding that many of you are not only reading our stories, but that you are enjoying and often times, relating to them. When I was told this, I felt quite warm and thrilled all over ” – Helen Lahr
- “We communicate not only to those around the table, but also through the Internet and to our families.” – Anonymous focus group response
- “I like that our stories don’t just sit here… it goes out to other people who see our stories.” – Anonymous focus group response
- “I must say thank you to the www/ for being a way that I can use to heal myself/ a way that I can meditate/ a place I can turn to/ a way to be human./ I say thank you www because/ I can go back to each frozen place-in-my-past/ and with God’s help, unfreeze each trauma/ each trauma that I could not/ deal with in the moment/ because I was busy surviving – I was too busy/ keeping a job in a world that said “No”./ The World Wide Web said, “Yes to all,” and/ “If you have it, bring it.”/ For that I thank the www./ You who level all playing fields./ With you the fear factor is gone./ Thank you www for access to information./ Are you reading me?/ Then blog me back./ Now healing starts here.” – Poem by Henrietta Faust
- Intergenerational Engagement
- “My time spent with the seniors has gotten me thinking about things differently. It has taught me a real lesson on humanity and how the human spirit can heal even some of the worst situations… It has given me a new perspective on life, as cliché as that sounds. I feel like I am able to connect with people better because of the wisdom that this group has passed onto me.” – Madi Garvin, Age 16
- “I’ve been volunteering with Best Day for six months now. It seems like such a short amount of time – for how comfortable I feel in this community, for how much I care about everyone here, for the deep peace I feel every time I come into class. Through Best Day, I’ve learned how powerful a connection can become when two people simply decide to listen to each other. For me, that’s the lesson of our group – if you go into an interaction with a person committed not only to respecting their story, but also to trusting them with your story, that interaction can always be a beautiful, worthwhile moment. I look forward to staying with Best Day and helping to build a huge network of people who get to create and experience those wonderful moments of trust together – a strong community that helps us all to live our lives fully and bravely.” – Rachel Hampton, Age 22
- “I was most inspired by the stories told to me by the visually impaired in the room. They appeared to look at things from ways no one else could see. Although they were blind, I discovered that I was the one who couldn’t see after I was enlightened by their insight.” – Olivia Brown, Age 17
- “I was so grateful for the experience of meeting these men and women. Their stories and this movement are an inspiration. Please never stop sharing your stories—these are things my generation needs to hear.” – Nicole Rizzuto, Age 21
- “This is a unique opportunity that you can’t find anywhere else.” – Ashley Force, Age 21
- “The Best Day of My Life So Far is more than a group in which stories are written and shared. It is a setting where individuals’ personal histories come together; a place where people reminisce about their lives, putting stories to paper that may otherwise never have been told… It took only one visit for me to recognize the value of this group not only in the lives of the residents who make up its membership, but those of the young volunteers who attend it as well. It is one thing to hear television hosts, film narrators, and teachers lecture on the history of the past century and the changes that the world has undergone. It is something else entirely to hear it from those who have lived it. In my time as a volunteer in this group, I have heard tales depicting the wonders of a colorful penny-candy counter and an old-fashioned butcher shop, intimidating in its array of hanging meats and massive knives. I have heard stories illustrating my own hometown when horse-and-carriages delivered vegetables and dairy products to doorsteps. I’ve learned about World War Two rationing limitations, heard fond memories of coal-heated winters, and listened eagerly to adventurous tales from the Amazon River. Some stories are intriguing and educational, others funny and light-hearted, and some emotionally nostalgic. Yet whatever the content or tone, each story that I hear is a lesson learned, and I take something from every one of them.” – Kaitlin Kortonick, Age 17
- “People, no matter their age, can interact comfortably here and leave every session with a more positive outlook on life.” – Joe Garrison, Older Adult
- “The Best Day of My Life So Far has changed my life by creating and stimulating conversation and storytelling between myself, my five children and my six grandchildren in California. Telling mostly humorous stories from my childhood and school days hopefully will offset my “old goat image” in their minds.” – Mo McCooper, Older Adult
- Cognitive Activity (executive brain functions related to problem solving, decision making and emotional self-regulation)
- “This class is beautiful. I love it here. It makes me feel so good… Writing keeps us active. It keeps our minds young… It keeps my mind healthy, and it is nice to be able to share my ideas although I can’t physically write.” – Loretta Gaither
- “Everyone can do this… Just focus on whatever you want to, the good days, bad days and most important things in your life. This is the best class at the center because all you have to do is be yourself… There should be more classes like this one.” – Arthur Murray
- “My life has been enhanced by using this time to express ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. This group has given me an outlet to do this on a consistent basis.” – Brenda Scantlebury
- “Today, being here in this group, I am realizing for the first time that: I AM a senior now. I have two kids – a son and a daughter – and 9 grandchildren. They are concerned that I am always hanging around at home. Today I decided to get out of my bed and come here. I heard this was a jumping place. Everyone in this group has made me feel so welcome. I am just starting to adjust to the fact that I am a senior citizen.” – Linda Carr
- Reminiscence Activity
- “It has opened my mind to all of the things I experienced in my past life.” – Robert Mitchell
- “Hearing stories from other people, you learn so much. Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are good; some are sad. Some stories relate to other people. You may hear someone’s stories and say that sounds like your story. The best time is now.” – Beatrice Newkirk
- “It brings back memories.” – Hattie Lee Ellerbe
- “The Best Day of My Life So Far has changed my life by letting me learn more about different parts of Philadelphia, realizing the great changes that have been made throughout the years, knowing that some of us have experienced the same things and lots of other things.” – Joan Bunting
- Emotional Expression
- “To me, writing is therapy. Sharing with others gives you insight or another approach to handling a problem.” – Kathye Dawoudi
- “People need people. I have never been in a writing group, but it’s a good way to vent my feelings.” – Mr. Norwood
- “I have a combination of both [physical and mental] disabilities but I am rapidly recovering from a 2-year depression. I am in a much more positive mood these days than I was 6 months to a year ago. Each day I look forward to living a new day in my life with more enthusiasm than I have ever shown in my 65 years of life… I am glad to be [here] with all my storytelling friends.” – Ellis Zelmanoff
- “I am healing from deep traumatic experiences. I love it here!” – Henrietta Faust
- “If it weren’t for my coming here, I really would be a depressed person. If it weren’t for the group, I would be keeping too much inside… Before I started attending, I didn’t think I would encounter people who would inspire me, relate to me or help me think positively about growing older. Being a part of this group has made me see things in a different light… I think the name of the group, ‘The Best Day of My Life So Far’, aptly describes how I feel about being a member. In the four years that I have been here, I have found some really dear friends and enjoyed listening to their stories, and sharing mine. I hope to continue attending for years to come.” – Joe Garrison
Impact Report Summaries
Aiicia Garrison, Center in the Park Community Center, Philadelphia, PA:
What started as a simple story-telling group turned out to be a life-changing experience for a lot of the members.
Tina Bontya, United Methodist Communities at Pitman, Pitman, NJ:
The residents look forward to the meetings every week, and this makes the rest of their week the “best” also. I have to say this program has impacted these residents more than any other program.
Sharon Yesner, United Methodist Communities at Pitman, Pitman, NJ:
We anticipated that the program would increase residents’ creativity and communication among one another and our associates – not only did we meet those goals, we exceeded them! Having this program at our community has allowed for cross socialization amongst our residents, the mood and outlook of our residents has improved, and the residents have expressed a new appreciation for the “younger generation.”
Nancy Nicholson, SASI (Services for Adults Staying in Their Homes), Evanston, IL:
Our group has been meeting for 12 weeks now… The very first week one woman asked, “Tell me again why we are here?” Needless to say I was taken aback – how could I tell her why she was here?! Three weeks later she was writing about her experience with art therapy, both as a professional and as a participant. Then she brought in her art to share with us – what a delight. Both her writing and the art itself illuminated whole new dimensions.
We have some members in the group that have chronic debilitating disease, both physical and mental. We know this because they have written about it and because it is sometimes quite obvious in conversation or when they are reading their story. This is of course to be expected in any group of seniors – but the way the group “deals with it” is unique.
The group is a truly free and safe space. It is NOT a support group. Participants are not trying to give advice. No one is judging, nor is anyone expressing sentiments that could be interpreted as “feeling sorry” for another. People just listen, patiently – no jumping in and finishing sentences for another – the sense that there is enough time is profound and a gift. I have witnessed participants literally relax into this freedom… What the program gives to people is a space and time that is removed from the structure of the rest of the world – space and time to reflect as they wish (and if they wish)… This freedom lets every one follow their own musings. And those musings – and the group dynamic – have been a joy for everyone.
Support for Our Founder’s Leadership
Diane Menio, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly:
In addition to the vision that Ms. Cooper provides for the project, she inspires an entire cadre of volunteers to assist in the project. She does this through a supportive mentoring process that results in a team effort that is, frankly, amazing. Ms. Cooper is truly a hero. My 16-year old daughter is interning with the project after attending some sessions last summer; she has been skillfully mentored by Ms. Cooper and is growing more confident each day.
Sharon Yesner, United Methodist Communities at Pitman:
Benita has been such a great support system for our group, not only providing us with the Training Guide but through phone calls and emails, whenever we have questions… When our group first started, Tina and I, and Ashley Force, the 21-year-old volunteer lead facilitator of our group, were concerned that the residents wouldn’t be able to write or remember stories that they would want to share with the group. Our concerns dissipated after sage advice from Benita – the residents independently wrote their stories, some at least a page long! Many included a note of thanks for the opportunity to participate and stated how much they enjoy the group… Benita’s methods and secrets really do work – our group has given our participants an opportunity to develop meaningful friendships, and is bursting with a Best Day spirit that is growing every week.
Preston Feden, La Salle University:
(Hosting university of the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference)
Hi Benita, You and your seniors were a BIG hit with the students and the staff at today’s conference. [We] were quite impressed by YOUR stage presence. You are so confident, poised, and enthusiastic, and you relate so well to both young and older audiences… One student said it was one of his best experiences to date at La Salle (which is close to your organizaton’s title :)
Rick Williams and Lisa Thomas Laury, ABC News:
We often hear that one person can make a difference. Today [we] introduce you to one such person.