Resident Scribe Helping Neighbors Find Their Voice

For a growing number of St. John’s residents, Monday afternoons have become a time set aside for self-reflection.

This is not group therapy—though what is shared amongst the group’s members can be quite personal. In fact, although these weekly gatherings only just started this past December, there have already been several instances where participants have said “I’ve never told anyone that before” after sharing an intimate detail from their life.

The new memoir writing group at St. John’s Meadows meets in the private dining room at Chestnut Court every week. On a very cold day in mid-February, the group’s instructor wastes no time getting things going. Participants are asked to think of someone they have admired throughout their life—which serves as the week’s writing prompt for them to get started putting pen to paper. “When in your life did you meet this person?” asks the instructor. “Where did you meet them? How did they affect your life?” From there, the room goes nearly silent as the class gets to work.

After about 20 minutes of intensive writing, the group set their pens down and began sharing their work. Each participant had the time to read aloud their narrative description of a teacher, an older sibling, a mentor, or their mother. One class member—coming to the class directly from a music program in the adjacent Parks Room—wrote of her admiration for world renowned composer Oscar Hammerstein II. Nearly every rendition was interrupted by a subtle pause or a cracking voice, illustrating just how moving it can be to remember those who have had a positive influence on our lives.

St. John’s Meadows resident Reva Sipser has waited a long time to start a group like this. “I’ve always written,” say Reva, describing how she took up much of her family’s correspondence growing up, due to her parent’s inability to read and write in English. It did not take long for other families in her Joseph Avenue neighborhood to start enlisting her help in writing letters. “I was the neighborhood scribe,” she says.

Reva has kept journals and written pieces all throughout her life. After a 20-year career as a preschool teacher in the city of Rochester, she moved to Florida and began taking writing classes. She was eventually asked to start facilitating those same classes, and did so for several years. She looks back on those days in her early retirement with fondness, noting the diverse group of adult learners she worked with.

“I had thought about starting a class seven years ago when I first got here,” says Reva of her return to Rochester and her move to St. John’s Meadows. She explains that she was hesitant to explore the concept of leading such a class, fearing it was too similar to the LifeBio program that has been offered at the Meadows for many years. Reva decided to move forward with starting the group after speaking with the social recreation team and getting a better feel for where her program would fit in the overall scope of community programming. Realizing that her offering would be less of a replacement to LifeBio and more of an alternative for those looking to make less of a commitment, she forged ahead.

Reva’s writing group has become increasingly popular over a short period of time. Participants will find themselves writing about a subject every week—perhaps a room they spent time in a half century ago or a meaningful “first” in their life. Some members have been writing for years while others are only just beginning. “For some people, it is strictly social,” explains Reva. “Others really want to get their stories down on paper.”

After reading his piece aloud, one newly minted resident scribe is surprised by how quickly the class time has gone by. “It’s interesting, we spend more time writing here than we do talking,” he says.

That is just how Reva likes it—a dedicated group of writers from every skill level taking pride in their craft. “I would like them to keep writing—to get in the habit of writing,” she says. “I also want them to enjoy it the way I enjoy it.”

Based on the satisfied, confident expressions on the faces of each resident by the end of class it is clear that Reva’s vision has been realized.

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