UMSL Life Review Project helps seniors leave a legacy

Former Sen. Betty Sims has no shortage of life stories, in fact she could write several books just on her childhood with her two sisters, one of whom is her twin. Because of her many stories, both throughout her childhood and her adult life in politics, the UMSL Life Review Project was a great idea for her.

“I have so many stories and life experiences I wanted to share,” said Sims, a fifth generation St. Louis native. “The reason I participated in the project was not for me, but to have something to share with future generations.”

The UMSL Life Review Project allows senior citizen volunteers to sit down with students in the Gerontology Graduate Program and record stories of their lives. Participants are asked about their lives and to recall memories and events. The interviews are videotaped and edited, and the participants receive free copies to share with family and friends.

“I can’t think of a better way to teach students about the aging process than by listening to the wisdom and life stories of senior adults,” said Thomas Meuser, director of the Gerontology Graduate Program at UMSL and coordinator of the project. “We all reminisce about the past, but life review becomes increasingly important as we age. Telling one’s life story is a terrific way to promote feelings of self worth and to leave a legacy for the future.”

The project is linked with the summer course, Interviewing Older Adults and Life Review.

“It is a great example of service learning in action. Teaching and community service combined so that everyone benefits,” he said. “Students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in capturing the life stories and wisdom of senior volunteers. We partner with community organizations, and so the university benefits, too.”

Over the summer, the project partnered with the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill., offering the project to residents.

Lori Schwartz, director of community relations at the Shrine, said the residents were excited to participate in the project and many continue to watch and show others their video keepsake.

“I’m a very big advocate of life review,” Schwartz said. “Our residents were so thrilled to participate in this project and talk about their past. Many of them recalled stories and events they hadn’t thought about in decades. Then they were able to share the video with their children, grandchildren and friends.”

UMSL graduate student Liz Yates has participated in the project and believes the experience is invaluable.

“The project is a great opportunity, for me as a student wanting to learn more about gerontology, as well as for the volunteers wanting to record a piece of their life,” Yates said. “Spending time with the participants, I was able to form a bond with them, to learn from their lives and to gain a deeper understanding of each person.”

Ed Cenatiempo, 70, of Kirkwood, Mo., said he was approached about the project by a friend. Cenatiempo recently lost his wife, Kathy to cancer. His sweetheart since he was 14 years old, Kathy had been ill for several months.

“Losing my Kathy was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” he said. “After she passed and I heard about the project, I thought it was something I had to do for my children, to not only keep my memory alive after I’m gone, but to keep the memory of her alive forever.”

The UMSL Life Review Project is an educational and community outreach effort sponsored by the Gerontology Graduate Program. The project, which began in 2007 as a summer course, will soon be offered each semester. The project is supported by the School of Social Work and the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at UMSL.

Visit http://www.umsl.edu/~socialwk/Gerontology/GerontologyIndexPage.html for more information about the project.


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