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‘Hear This!’: Community members, students share life-changing moments at storytelling event

By Staff | Apr 3, 2020

Joan and Erdem Ergin, of Shepherdstown, snack on some of the refreshments at the Hear This! Stories Across Generations event in Erma Ora Byrd Hall on March 12. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Community members and Shepherd University students gathered together in Erma Ora Byrd Hall on March 12, to listen and share stories about their lives, for the “Hear This! Stories Across Generations: An Evening of Storytelling.”

Hosted by Shepherdstown Area Independent Living, the intergenerational storytelling event celebrated the two years of work SAIL and Shepherd University have dedicated to encouraging communication between college students and seniors in the Shepherdstown area.

“I’m thrilled to see so many students — that’s one reason we had so much of a reason to start this program. We’ve built such wonderful relationships with the students who have been part of this,” said SAIL board member Edwinna Bernat. “We have a number of people speaking today, including five SAIL members, two students and one faculty member.”

The five SAIL members were retired opera singer David Rampy, World War II mail order bride Elinor Ross, retired Social Service Agency Director Betty Snyder, retired civil engineer Randy Underwood and retired Naval officer Jack Young. Shepherd University history and historic preservation professor Keith Alexander and students Abdoul Nasser Achirou, of Niger, and Chloe Johnson, of Inwood, filled out the storytelling slots.

According to Bernat, these storytellers were a selected representation of the local participants who, over the past year, have shared and recorded conversations about their personal stories in the Hear This! Sharing Stories Across Generations program. The storytellers were then coached in preparation for the event by Shepherdstown-based national storyteller Adam Booth.

Storyteller Adam Booth talks about the intergenerational storytelling project he led, in conjunction with Shepherdstown Area Independent Living and Shepherd University, during the Hear This! event on March 12. Tabitha Johnston

“We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to share all of our stories with you today,” Booth said. “Storytelling allows those in older generations to share with younger folks, and folks from younger generations to learn from older folks. I have been fortunate enough to visit with these storytellers along the way.”

As the evening progressed, attendees were led to laugh and cry in response to the deeply introspective and sometimes humorous stories presented by the storytellers. The stories varied widely from person to person, ranging from stories of growing up on a West Virginia farm to making a difference in a third-world country by developing Shepherd University’s Water Project. The story variety, however, only contributed to the evening’s storytelling, as it never allowed for a dull moment to arise.

Although the Hear This! Sharing Stories Across Generations program is finished for this school year, Booth encouraged the community members and students in attendance to use it as an inspiration for sharing their stories with other people.

“You don’t have to be in front of a large group of people to tell stories,” Booth said, mentioning storytelling helps strengthen relationships. “Now it’s time to go home and tell stories — to your family, to your loved ones, to your friends.”

Shepherd University student Abdoul Nasser Achirou, of Niger, talks about a painting he bought from a Nigerian artist who inspired Shepherd University's Water Project, during the Hear This! event on March 12. Tabitha Johnston