Recording the Past: LMU Students Document the Life Histories of Local Seniors

Sharing and preserving the stories of seniors in our community is just one way that we can connect the past and present to the future, and students in Dr. Anna Muraco’s Sociology of Aging course are doing just that by writing the personal life histories of some Westchester residents.

Muraco’s Sociology of Aging course examines the diversity of aging experiences amongst seniors and how societal institutions play a role in shaping the norms and expectations of aging. One of the course’s signature assignments is the sociological analysis and documentation of an older adult’s life history. The impetus behind the assignment was to humanize the elder population and demonstrate how elderly adults are thriving, have goals, and still think about the future. Muraco’s hope is to provide students with a different view of older people’s lives, especially since young people today rarely interact with elders who are not members of their extended families.

A key partner for this assignment has been Westside Pacific Villages (WPV), a local nonprofit that enables older community members to thrive in their own homes. Carol Kitabayashi, the Executive Director of WPV, explains that the service her organization provides “is not caregiving. Instead, it connects community volunteers to older community members to assist with everyday tasks.” In that regard, WPV was perfectly suited to help identify local seniors who would be interested in participating in the project. Kitabayashi now visits Muraco’s classroom and meets with the students individually in order to more effectively match them with seniors in the community.

The response to the personal histories assignment has been overwhelmingly positive. One local senior, Patty, was ecstatic to participate and explained how the assignment brought up many old memories. “There are so many things that I forgot that I did,” she remarked before describing how much she enjoyed working with the students. “They are so, so great – their warmth and their energy. Their whole attitude is beautiful. They got great people that go to LMU!” Patty went on to explain how helpful the volunteers with WPV have been for her, many of whom are also LMU students.

Muraco’s students have also expressed their enjoyment of the experience. For rising junior Kira Jatoft, the intergenerational interaction made a profound impact on her. The experience provided her with a greater understanding of the elderly community and added new shades of meaning to her own life. When asked about the local senior who she was partnered with, Kira explained, “She is so incredible. I remember coming back to my dorm and telling all my roommates about her.” After learning about WPV, Kira now sees herself becoming a volunteer for the non-profit. “I would love to drive them places.”

To celebrate the end of the semester, students reunited with their partners at WPV’s Coffee and Conversations to present them each with a specialized copy of their own personal history.