By Vivian Collins
A new SIRCH program offers community members a chance to personally hear and retell the colourful life stories of local seniors.
The program, Memories to Life, brings a volunteer and a senior together, who may be isolated or have early-stage dementia or memory-loss.
The volunteer helps them remember events, people, and places in their lives by creating a personal scrapbook.
“The more I talked to her, the more I remembered. I didn’t think about a lot of things that happened in my life until I talked to Donna or saw a picture. They’re lovely memories, and this book has lots of memories now too,” said Elinor Hamilton, a participant of the program.
The program was equally as rewarding for volunteers.
“I think that’s what’s so fascinating talking to people like Elinor. It brings back our history about what’s happened, because we lose it if we don’t write it down,” said Memories to Life volunteer Donna McCallum.
SIRCH launched its first round of Memories to Life back in the spring with seven participants and seven volunteers.
Jan Saugh is the coordinator of senior wellness at SIRCH Community Services, a new position at the not-for-profit organization, and said the program is meant to help seniors have a keepsake of their lives before possible short-term memory loss takes place.
“We pair a volunteer, from the community as well, with the senior, and they meet each week for an hour or two hours. Slowly, the volunteer gathers their information, gets their pictures, finds out about their interests and hobbies, information about their family, and we make it into a beautiful scrapbook. And then, it’s an heirloom that can be passed down rather than sitting in a box waiting for their story to be told. We’ll tell the story for them. It’s something for the family to have, but it’s also used as a conversation piece,” Saugh said.
Saugh said that it’s easier for seniors to remember past memories over short-term memories.
“Short-term memory is usually the first thing to go, and long-term memory stays longer, so when they see a picture of, say, their mother, they’re likely going to remember. That’s why it’s important.”
The program is approximately 12 weeks long, and volunteers spend one to two hours with their participant each week and then a couple more hours conducting research and putting the book together.
“Listening to their stories was so much fun. We’d have scrapbooking days where [the volunteers] would meet downstairs in the training room at SIRCH, and literally the whole room was taken over with paper, talk, and laughter,” Saugh said.
Volunteers would complete three days of training at SIRCH prior to first meeting with their participant.
Saugh said it was a great experience for the volunteers to bond with each other.
“One of the volunteers in the last one couldn’t finish her book because of health reasons, and two of the other volunteers stepped in and helped finish her scrapbook. They’ve bonded, they’ve become friends, they’ve created a tight-knit community. Not only have they connected with their client, but they’ve also connected with the rest of the volunteers to make it a team. We call it our team now,” Saugh said.
SIRCH is currently accepting new volunteers for the next round of the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who might be new to the area or are recently retired and don’t have a lot of other retired friends. People who are looking for friendships and connections, or are looking to give back to the community, this is a great way to get to know more people, and you aren’t overwhelmed with a big group. It’s a small group,” said SIRCH communications coordinator Angelica Ingram.
A donation from an anonymous donor was what brought the program back to life after it was initially created 10 years ago.
With Saugh’s focus on seniors in the area, “there are lots of plans and discussions of other programming that can happen to help seniors who are primarily isolated,” Ingram said.
If you are looking for lifelong friendships and a way to give back to the community through the Memories to Life program, contact SIRCH at 705-457-1742 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org to apply to become a volunteer.
“We didn’t know each other before this, but we certainly made up for lost time,” Hamilton said. “I talked her ear off and told her a lot of crazy stories, most of which are true,” she laughed.
“It was a wonderful experience.”