Heard @ Geneseo: Student organization builds bridge between senior citizen community and students

"I believe that we are who we are from the stories that we choose to tell people. If [those stories] go unrecorded, then a significant part of our community is lost," senior Mike Roff explained as the significance of his creation of one of the first student-run organizations of its kind, Heard @ Geneseo.

 "[Heard @ Geneseo] is a student-run civic engagement project whose purpose is to listen [and] connect Geneseo students with the Geneseo senior citizen community in a positive fashion," Roff said.

A genuine interest in the stories of others and determination to improve the Geneseo community inspired Roff to start Heard last August. Over the course of the semester, the 25 students currently involved in the group – who have already engaged in two extensive training sessions – will work in 11 pairs with 11 local senior citizens to record and transcribe six hour-long reminiscence therapy sessions. The program seems to have attracted a wide-range of students, from all class years and majors, but those with particular interest in writing and history have gravitated most towards the organization.

By the end of December, Roff estimated that the interviews will amount to about 550 pages of recorded dialogue. He hopes to have some of those pages published and included in the Library of Congress's American Folk Life Center. He is also working with Karen Smith from the Livingston County Office of the Aging to send the final transcript to the Livingston County Historical Society.

Roff, who has spent between 150-200 hours researching for the project since the end of August, says that what makes Heard @ Geneseo special is the reminiscence therapy sessions members will be conducting, which focus on "celebrating a person's life and the continuation of it rather than reviewing it in preparation for the end" as other "life review" studies on college campuses have tended toward.

Heard @ Geneseo recently received a $650 grant from the Geneseo Foundation Undergraduate Research and Travel Grant Program to cover the costs of digital voice recorders that will make the interview and transcription process possible.

Other than formally documenting the stories of the senior citizens interviewed, Roff hopes that Heard will also "help people understand that their lives form integral wholes that are worthwhile to listen to." He seeks to "dispel negative stereotypes that often couple with students, like apathy and ignorance, for more positive qualities, such as empathy and engagement."      

Students involved with Heard @ Geneseo will strive not only to achieve a better understanding of another generation, but to make local senior citizens feel appreciated and important as well. If you're interested in joining, email Roff at mar34@geneseo.edu.