December 22, 2009

Mandel Student Provides a Gift of Memories

Keepsake books will appear as holiday gifts for 10 senior citizens in Wadsworth, Ohio. The gift is one filled with their memories, which for some is a way to preserve their past before it is lost to the ills of aging.

David Harris, a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, and his longtime friend Joey Hanna from Wadsworth created The Living through Legacies Project with the Wadsworth Center for Older Adults, which allows for the creation of personal, timeless memoirs.

"Putting together these books has been priceless," says Harris. "Getting all these perspectives on how people have lived their lives has made me think twice about how my actions can impact my future."

These books become recorded histories of people whose memories may fade to memory losses. But these books are not only for the individuals but help preserve the memories for family members.

Harris adds that the books become a testimonial to the remarkable lives and contributions these people have made.

The social work student in community development also sees the books as a way to promote family values and reverence for older adults, which Harris says is sometimes missing in today's culture.

The Living through Legacies Project evolved from a talk Harris had with Nancy Likens, the executive director of the Wadsworth Center for Older Adults, about the friends' newly formed company, tec4Life.

The business is designed to help older people learn to use technology to stay connected with family members. But the conversation with Likens turned to finding an intergenerational project to connect the community's senior citizens with younger people. Living through Legacies was born.

This fall, 18 high school students from Wadsworth visited the 10 senior citizens chosen through a lottery and asked them questions about their past. Each person was encouraged to have a family member present to help him or her through the process of recalling these memorable life events.

The Wadsworth project is the second for Harris. His first was 10 books for 10 older Wadsworth residents that he and Hanna constructed in three months from December 2008 to February 2009. The project involving high school students as biographers followed just months later.

The project makes available hardcover biographies to people who may not have the means to have their histories published. Each is a 40- to 60-page book, produced by Apple Print Services. In the preface, each student biographer writes a personal statement about the impact of the project, and then the biography follows, illustrated with photographs.

But the Living for Legacies Project isn't stopping with the holiday.

Harris recently received a $10,000 grant from the McGregor Foundation to do a third project. He will recruit six elders from the McGregor Home in East Cleveland and six residents from the Fairfax neighborhood in Cleveland.

He also needs about 24 student biographers (undergraduate and graduate students) from Case Western Reserve University for the semester-long project that begins in January.

Harris, the project's coordinator, says this book project has potential to be used as a SAGES Senior Capstone project or as part of the learning experience for social work students, amongst other areas of independent research.

He is also accepting applications from residents in the Fairfax area in Cleveland and McGregor Home who are interested. They must be 55 and older, have a family member willing to participate, and live 150 percent below the poverty level; preference is also given to those persons with a mild cognitive impairment.

If interested in participating in the project, contact Harris at 330-239-8760 or by e-mail at

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, December 22, 2009 10:28 AM | News Topics: Community Outreach, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Students, features, news

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