Word And Bond: Storytelling Opens Up Our Past To Future Generations

By Abbie S. Fink

We all have memories of our parents telling us a bedtime story. Almost always, we played an important role in that story – maybe as a prince or princess, ball player or ballet dancer. The concept of storytelling is nothing new – heck, more than 40,000 years ago, cave men and women were telling stories. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education and cultural preservation.

And for two Scottsdale residents, storytelling has been a life-affirming, life-changing experience.

Debra Metelits, a retired school teacher, and Beverly Rubenstein, a retired business owner, are both regular participants in the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Creative Aging storytelling workshop. Led by Kim Porter, an author, actor/director and playwright, this workshop helps participants take their personal stories and create a narrative that can be read or told aloud.

“As an English teacher, I have a deep appreciation for words,” Metelits says. “I have written nonfiction before, but never about myself. Before this class, I wasn’t at all sure that I had any worthwhile stories to tell. But our wonderful teacher, Kim Porter, says it is her main goal to help us ‘unearth’ the stories that are in all of our pasts.”

Rubenstein echoes those sentiments as well. “I have always wanted to write a memoir. But when my husband passed away 14 years ago, I lost my focus and my desire,” she says. “Then a friend mentioned this workshop through Jewish Family & Children Service, and I decided to give it a try. I’ve been an active participant ever since.”

Current data suggests there are several benefits to storytelling, from improved memory to better mood to better interpersonal relationships. Researchers continue to analyze the importance of storytelling as a means of not only teaching and entertaining, but also enhancing cognitive health.

According to Porter, stories are linked to what it means to be human. Before there was formal communication, there were stories that were passed down verbally from generation to generation.

“Our participants are all seniors, many of which want to create a lasting legacy for their children and grandchildren,” Porter says. “Helping them through this journey and giving them the tools to capture these important family stories is as much of a joy for me as it is for them. I’m honored to be a part of this transformative program.”

The storytelling workshop is just one of a variety of offerings that are part of the Creative Aging program at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, Barbara and Barry Zemel and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, classes are offered around the Valley, covering a broad range of arts, such as readers’ theater, voice, dance and of course, storytelling.

Creative Aging is a national movement aimed at fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expressions and quality of life for older adults. These participatory, fun classes stimulate the mind and body and provide an outlet for artistic expressions.

“Taking this storytelling workshop has really opened my eyes to the power of story. And it has given me the opportunity to dig deeper into my past so that I can share these important stories with our future generations,” Metelits says.

All Creative Aging programs are non-sectarian and open to the general public, aged 60 and older. Registration for fall classes is open now. For information, visit jfcsaz.org/creativeaging.