Local seniors find their inner voice through writing program

Pictured are the participants of the Little Falls Silver Scribes Program: Seated, from left, Marie Speziale, Rose Van Heest, Paul Van Heest, Basia Jaworski, standing, from left, Anthony Taschler, Charlotte Eitel, teacher Meredith Sue Willis, Frances Schimpf, Irene Hunt, Rosalie Paddock, Jackie Klein, Dee Boonstra, and Montclair State student assistant Ena Gomez.

What do you do when the Silver Scribes program in Montclair is such a success? You bring it to Little Falls!

Last year the Montclair Arts Council (MAC), through its Creating Aging Initiative, partnered with the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey and Montclair State University to give senior citizens in Montclair the opportunity to engage in a weekly writing program that fostered creative self-expression, enhanced writing skills and increased positive self-esteem.

The program, which is funded by the Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement, was such as success that the three groups brought the program this spring to the senior citizens of Little Falls, where the same enthusiasm and creativity is sparking writings beyond anything the participants ever imagined.
In Montclair, Playwrights Theatre educator, poet and performer Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin led the 10-session program, which culminated in a readings performance at Amani Café on Grove Street.

In Little Falls, author Meredith Sue Willis led the senior citizens in weekly writing activities at the Municipal Building.

“They were great,” said Willis, who is author of “Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel (Montemayer Press) and the upcoming “Out of the Mountains” (Ohio University Press). “They were serious about their writing in class and their homework.”  Willis said the senior writers wrote on a variety of topics in many formats, from poems and essays to memoirs. “I would give them a topic and let them write,” she explained. “We worked a lot with the senses, which is great for pulling out memories.”

Montclair State student Ena Gomez of Bloomfield assisted the participants in both the Montclair and Little Falls program. The junior art history major said Silver Scribes gave seniors who have had a love for writing their entire lives to reclaim their inner voice. “This was not necessarily a program about learning to write,” she explained. “These were groups of writers who were given an opportunity to do something they love. It also was about honoring the fact that just because you reach a certain age that doesn’t mean you lose your passion.”

Anthony Taschler said the program inspired him to put onto paper stories that he hopes will be passed down to future generations. “It showed me how to take an idea and expand upon it. I learned how to pay attention and think about what I want to say.”

The stories from the Little Falls participants are being put into an anthology that will be distributed at a presentation Sept. 8 at the Civic Center.