Generation to generation

Telling life stories at Sycamore Glen Retirement Center

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Susan Brockus and Leslie Layton teach in the Chico State Journalism Department.

Everybody has a story. Such was the thesis of a project last fall that connected 35 Chico State journalism students with seniors living at Sycamore Glen and The Oakmont retirement communities.

The plan was for the students—all in their very early 20s—to meet with their senior partners—ranging in age from 80s to mid-90s—at least three times. Over the course of the visits, the students were expected to build a rapport, listen, and record each person’s life history.

“This was essentially a validation of their existence,” said Lucinda Balgooyen, activity director for Sycamore Glen. “It’s just so important to share their stories.”

It was clear that both sides were excited about the project, but also a little nervous. On one hand, the students had been paired with people older than their grandparents. On the other, the seniors were being asked to share the details of their lives with “kids” younger than most of their grandchildren.

There were numerous hindrances to the project, from the seniors’ inevitable hearing and vision issues and instances of delicate health, to the students’ busy school and work schedules.

But it worked. And the end result was far more than just a story project for magazine-writing class.

“This magical intergenerational bonding also took place—which I think was serendipitous for all involved,” Balgooyen said.

The students learned that their story partners had lived long, interesting lives. They also learned that thinning gray hair and a well-aged body doesn’t stop people from living—that their senior partners were busy with friends and other activities, including dating.

The News & Review selected four of these life stories—coincidentally, all from Sycamore Glen residents—for the package published this issue.