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From older adult participants:

“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, First-Time Attendee

 

“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. People, no matter their age, can interact comfortably here and leave every session with a more positive outlook on life. 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, Long-Time Attendee

 

“We are branching out. We started small and we are reaching out to everyone on the Internet. My friends and family are very happy about this project. They say it is the best thing and has the right title.”

Beatrice Newkirk, Long-Time Attendee

 

“I’m very, very happy to come to this writing and reading group.  I have met a lot of wonderful people. I love them all.”

Robert Leung, Regular Attendee

 

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never written anything before… It’s been in my head all this years. It was just waiting to come out.”

Mo McCooper, Regular Attendee

 

“I am homeless again, trying to get a new place to live… Right now, I am in our writing class so I feel a lot better, 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, Regular Attendee

 

From family members:

“My Mom, Beatrice, looks so great. Every time you all post pictures of my mother it does my heart good because I get to see her. I miss her so.”

Renee Newkirk-Avery, Daughter

 

“My father, Mo McCooper, has always been my greatest inspiration. To this day I have never met anyone as in love with life as my father. I am so happy that he is a part of your wonderful writer’s group; I love sharing him! Thank you Benita for creating such a powerful forum for seniors to be heard.”

Colleen Marlo, Daughter

 

“I don’t always know how my dad keeps busy on most days, but I never have to worry about where he is on Thursdays.  I love being able to log onto the blog and see his smiling face among the many people in the class.  It’s exciting to see him excited about his friends and the wonderful volunteers who make this possible.  Although he doesn’t write as frequently anymore, in many ways the weekly stories are even more meaningful than any letter of the past…and these stories are ones I will surely not take for granted.”

Dorothy Leung, Daughter and volunteer

 

From experts:

“An older adult writes and speaks, and a young person transcribes the heartfelt words into typed text. It’s a beautiful partnership across time. The words of these stories bring back the past, but more important than that, they fulfill our common human need to be heard, to be listened to, to connect. This inspired program, represented so movingly in this storybook, provides a safe environment for older adults to tell their stories, and the benefits are myriad. Knowing that their memories will live forever means so much to the older participants, and we’ve seen them flourish as a result; and for the young adult scribes, every session is an opportunity that teaches about giving and sharing and connecting, and how being of service is enriching on so many levels. Long live the words of these Best Day stories, and may the voices represented know that someone out there is listening.”

Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President, AARP Foundation

 

“At a young age, Benita recognized that the value of her own relationship with her grandmother could serve as a way to open communication across generations as well as other cultural divisions. In acting on this recognition, she is providing the example for improving mental health and social problems affecting many neighborhoods and families today.”

Barbara Fleisher and Thelma Reese, Authors, “The New Senior Woman”

 

“We often hear that one person can make a difference. Today [we] introduce you to one such person.”

Rick Williams and Lisa Thomas Laury, Anchors, ABC News

 

“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.”

Dr. Jill Chonody, Professor of Psychology, Social Work, and Social Policy, University of South Australia, and Dr. Donna Wang, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Long Island University

 

“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.”

Dr. Tania Giovannetti, Associate Professor of Neurology, Drexel University and Associate Professor of Psychology, Temple University

 

“This 21st century project reaches an international audience through the ancient and communal act of story sharing but does so using the latest social media tools. I can tell you first hand of the intelligence and passion Benita brings to her work with seniors, how she inspires them to open up to their new-found peers as if their well-being depended on it. And thanks to Ms. Cooper, it does.”

Andy Kahan, Director of Author Events, Free Library of Philadelphia

 

“I was struck by how Benita had turned a simple concept -sharing stories around a table-into a revolutionary model for intergenerational engagement and programming. My colleagues at AARP PA immediately saw the value of endorsing Benita and her efforts to promote community wellness and mentorship. We believe strongly in the principles of collective purpose, collective voice, and collective purchasing power – Benita’s memoir and storytelling project are powerful vehicles for all of these principles. The beauty of Benita’s model lays in its mobility, magnetism and expandability. Through storytelling, digital networking, leadership by example, and mutual mentorship of seniors and teens, her vision will have unparalleled benefits in civic engagement and community health and wellness.”

Grace Rustia, Associate State Director, AARP Pennsylvania

 

“I stumbled upon your project and found it to be extraordinary. 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. The Best Day of My Life (so far) is the best grassroots organization I’ve encountered (so far). The group is filling an important need by helping seniors form a community, find their voice, and connect with young people. If their efforts could be expanded at the local and national level, the positive impact this could have on our culture is incalculable. The positive energy this group 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

 

“The Best Day project will continue to grow in local and worldwide influence. Benita Cooper gives the group exactly what it needs to survive: autonomy and ownership. She is the leader of a true creative revolution in the community for older adults; she is changing the landscape of the art of storytelling. Best Day has the capability to become exponential, while remaining life changing for those who are lucky enough to participate.”

Meaghan Brown, Manager, Senior Account Executive, United Way of New York City

 

“The Best Day of My Life So Far’s Story Cure Training Program has energized our staff and brought a renewed sense of community amongst our program participants. The level of heartfelt discussions and respect for one another’s unique lifetime of stories has created new connections between our participants, staff and caregivers, and a deeper level of respect and understanding. For LIFE-NWPA it’s important for us to foster meaningful interpersonal connections, and the Story Cure has proven to be a powerful tool in accomplishing that. We’ve launched Story Cure at each of our locations, and not only has it sparked something special at each site, but it’s given a reason to form special connections between the centers as the staff share the stories and their experiences.”

Jay Breneman, Director of Outreach and Governmental Relations, LIFE-NWPA (Living Independence for the Elderly – Northwestern Pennsylvania)

 

“I went to the site for a minute and spent an hour. I love those stories. They make me feel connected to people I might never get to know otherwise. The human family is beautiful.”

Barbara Fleisher, Author, “The New Senior Woman”

 

“I have been in the business of serving the elderly for 29 years – your program is one of the very few who is able to think outside the box in serving the elderly. I hope your program will continue to expand to teach other senior centers to do the same.”

Catherine Wu, Health Insurance Specialist, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

 

“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.”

Tina Bontya, Venue Staff Representative

 

“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.’ ”

Sharon Yesner, Venue Staff Representative

 

“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.”

Diane Menio, Executive Director at Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly

 

From younger participants:

“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, Volunteer Facilitator

 

“Facilitating is easy and effortless, and a life opportunity that shouldn’t pass you by. This is a unique opportunity that you can’t find anywhere else. Facilitating The Best Day Of My Life So Far is something that I do not regret because it has made me a strong leader, a better listener and wiser overall.”

Ashley Force, Volunteer Facilitator

 

“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, 17-year-old Visitor

 

“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.”

Madi Garvin, 16-year-old Volunteer

 

“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, 21-year-old Event Audience Member

 

“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. I have been a volunteer at the Pitman Manor for about six months, but have only been attending ‘Best Day’ for a couple of weeks. However, 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. Thank you to all in the Pitman Manor ‘Best Day’ group and keep on writing!”

Kaitlin Kortonick, 17-year-old Volunteer

 

From professional participants:

“It’s awesome to see how close the group is becoming! New friends made and current friendships strengthened!!”

Sue Gregor, LIFE-NWPA

 

“I find that their stories are fascinating and that there is so much we truly do not know about each other. For instance, one man in our group was in the Air Force, but I knew very little about his history. It turns out he was in the Secret Service and flew for President Ford and President Carter, as well as their Vice Presidents, Rockefeller and Mondale. I showed him a Youtube video of President Ford on Air Force One, and the participant was there, but he didn’t make it in the video… It is a wonderful opportunity to be engaged with our participants and reminisce, and discover more about their pasts through telling their interesting stories. They verbalized that they enjoy their time in the group setting. We can all learn from each other.”

Amy Dalessandro, LIFE-NWPA

 

“Along with me, we have three aids that are in their 20’s who are learning from and encouraging the participants to share their stories. Their willingness to listen and ask meaningful questions has helped the participants to feel valued and appreciated. They have often remarked that most young people don’t want to listen to them. Watching our group dynamics change during this process has been very rewarding. When we began, I was unsure about one individual who tends to be opinionated and often crude; however, as he has been telling his stories you can see that he is sitting taller, contributing and encouraging to others. We have a few participants that have difficulty staying on track; however, by asking meaningful questions and guiding them back they are able to share their stories. Storytelling allows them to share more than their memory of time and space, they are able to share the emotions, and discover how those memories have shaped who they are today. They are also building deep relationships of trust as they have opened up and share… Their willingness to share their brokenness, at various points in their life, is a true testimony of how trust is built in this group and how sharing stories impact lives. On an administrative level we are planning activities and hiring staff with [The Best Day of My Life So Far’s] six metrics in mind… Giving voice to a person’s life experience, not only values the person, but connects all those listening in a way that is forgotten in the fast pace of society as a whole.”

Cynthia Schoffstall, LIFE-NWPA