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Life Stories Video Series Project

Senior Living Communities received special Best of the Best Program to Spotlight recognition for its Life Stories Video Series Project and improving relationships between residents, their families and staff.  

Oral history has entered the information age at Senior Living Communities.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, provider offers the opportunity for individual residents to be interviewed and featured in their own professionally produced and packaged one-hour video memoir. The DVDs are offered as a free amenity and are not used for marketing or research.

“I tell them, ‘This is for your kids, your grandkids, and great grandkids you’ll never meet,’” says Thomas Torrey, video master. “When I say, ‘You are the first generation to have this sort of technology at your disposal,’ you can see the light bulb go on, [as in] ‘Oh! I can see what this is all about.’”

More than 200 autobiographies have been filmed so far, and the response from residents and families has been positive. “People have had really interesting lives, and they like to talk about it,” says Torrey.

When filming the interviews, Torrey, who also produces marketing videos for the company, takes pains to differentiate the experience from a journalist’s interview or a public relations piece. He has learned to ask open-ended questions, let the conversation evolve organically, and use a light touch. “The enjoyment for the resident is finding someone with conversational skills and a softhearted approach,” he says. “I’d rather have a meager video production than a poor interview.”

Many residents recount how they met and married the love of their life. All but one male resident served in World War II. One woman remembers the Nazis breaking down her family door in Austria. Another resident used the opportunity to reconnect with an estranged son whom she had not seen in 20 years. “It can be that profound,” says Torrey. “Other times, it’s just an amazing keepsake.”

After focusing on independent living residents, Torrey realized the importance of the project to some of the oldest and frailest participants, so he has started working with assisted living and skilled nursing residents this year. He keeps a trove of thank-you notes at his desk. “Thank you for your patience and kindness in helping an ‘old lady’ put some things into words to preserve for her children and grandchildren,” wrote one participant.

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