By Lynne R. Dorfman
Forming a senior citizen writing group is one way to explore the value of writing in the lives of older adults. I taught poetry, memoir, and fiction to seniors in their late sixties, seventies, and eighties at Upper Moreland Township School District for six years. Although some of the writers were physically incapacitated in a variety of ways, by the end of the workshop all were actively writing with enthusiastic involvement and participation. They brought their notebooks and pens, and we provided a light snack and coffee or tea.
Several high school students joined us each time to write, share with seniors, and help the seniors by typing their work on district computers in a nearby learning lab. Many seniors were members of the Key Club, a student-led organization that provides its members with opportunities to perform service, build character, and develop leadership. These high school students often wrote side-by-side with seniors during planning and drafting and shared their writing with us. They proved to be a source of motivation and the seniors were our source of inspiration.
The act of writing and the interaction within the group led to a sense of richness and value in the writers’ own lives. Participants often continued writing at home because they wanted to practice and share their work with peers. Initial writing included descriptions, observations, and poetry. Then we moved to our treasured stories – memories of childhood and young adulthood, memories of good times and bad times. This writing led them to want to write more to gain an understanding of their lives and share with others. Finally, the writing selected by the seniors was compiled into an anthology each year and distributed to the seniors. High school volunteers also submitted one piece to add to the collection. The school district graciously paid for publishing costs.