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‘Shepherd Speaks’ intergenerational program launches at Shepherd University

By Staff | Nov 9, 2018

Shepherd University graduate student Megan Rynne explains the new "Shepherd Speaks" intergenerational program in Scarborough Library's Reading Room on Thursday. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, led by Shepherd University graduate student Megan Rynne, hosted the inaugural meeting for the university’s newest intergenerational initiative, “Share Your Story with Shepherd Speaks: Voices of Today,” on Nov. 1.

Shepherd University students and Shepherdstown Area Independent Living members met in the Scarborough Library Reading room at the beginning of the two-hour event.

“There are something like 12 ‘SAILers’ participating,” said SAIL President Carolyn Rodis, as she walked into the library to join the rest of the group. Rodis said she, Rynne and several faculty members met together last year to discuss Rynne’s ideas for the program.

“In times past, SAIL in the spring has done an intergenerational event with students, which is wildly popular, so I thought our members would like to participate in this,” Rodis said. “The whole idea is to get students to tell their stories — it’s a storytelling event.”

Developing the program to satisfy the requirements for her master’s capstone project, Rynne based the program’s concepts on the international nonprofit storytelling organization, StoryCorp.

At the beginning of the event, Rynne gave examples of good interpersonal storytelling, and then let students draw names of community members to pair up with. A couple of groups at a time went into separate rooms in the library, to ask each other questions and share stories in response to their questions.

“What we’re doing for one another, is to form a sacred space to share stories with each other. We are creating a community story-sharing experience,” Rynne said, mentioning the event will be held at Shepherd once a semester.

According to Rynne, after a little practice, each group’s conversation was recorded and published on StoryCorps’ app, to save stories that might otherwise be lost and make them available for others to listen to. The stories will also make it possible for people outside of Appalachia to develop an accurate idea of what life in Appalachia is like.

“Everything we do has to do with storytelling in Appalachian studies,” said Shepherd University Appalachian Studies Coordinator Sylvia Shurbutt. “Our stories are everything — they’re part of who we are, who our families are. If someone else tells our stories, they lose their value.”

Some community members said they hoped to get the opportunity during the interviews to discuss their lives in Appalachia.

“I think I might talk some about when I moved to Appalachia 35 years ago, and I was a professor at Marshall, and I started talking with many folks who grew up in Appalachia, what that experience was like,” said SAIL member Linda Spatig. “I hope to become more involved with the young people and the community through this, and to contribute to the effort to strengthen the positive view of Appalachia. It’s important to increase the knowledge of the region, and to do so with residents of the region.”

Back Creek Valley resident David Cogar said he hoped to not only share stories from his life in Appalachia at the event, but to also get to know the next generation.

“I’m just going to talk about my life. I was raised locally, from Back Creek Valley,” Cogar said. “Like most of the older generation, we don’t know what kids think — their expectations are so much different than when I was young, yet they’re still the same.”