“I’m not a writer,” cautions Patty Geiger.
Moments later, she shares a vivid poem that recalls making hot chocolate with her mother years ago.
Meet the Columbia Basin Writers, a group of senior citizens transformed into powerful poets and storytellers.
Comprised of residents of Columbia Basin Care, a care facility in The Dalles, the Columbia Basin Writers gather once a month to read, write and share. Through writing prompts and conversation, members mine their past for stories and poems. With the help of staff and volunteers, writers are guided through games and exercises to rev up the creative process.
For those who have difficulty with the physical act of writing, volunteers take dictation and offer kind nudges. For some, just a little encouragement stirs a rush of memory, and emotion too.
“When I write, it’s from here,” says Sandy Pishion, placing her hands across her heart.
Studies have shown older adult literary programs, such as reading poetry and writing memories, can have significant impact on residents’ mood, concentration and social interaction. Research has also demonstrated improvements in short and long-term memory and listening.
“Self expression is powerful, at any age,” says Drew Myron, Columbia Basin’s marketing director who leads the writing program. “While the focus is on writing, the real focus is on sharing our stories, and ourselves. There is great power in being seen and heard.”
While writing programs are frequent among youth, few programs are in place for senior citizens, and even fewer for those with dementia.
In April, in conjunction with National Poetry Month, Columbia Basin hosted a party for writers to read their words aloud. Against a backdrop of a sunny day, festive food, and music by local pianist Rule Beasley, the Columbia Basin Writers shared their work to a rapt audience.
“This has been the best hour I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Norm Vincent, a writer and natural storyteller, said of the party. “This really means a lot to me.”