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Forest Hills HS students help elders tell life experiences

Everybody has a story to tell, and a group of Forest Hills teenagers will make sure that some of the most interesting tales in the neighborhood are recorded before they are gone forever.

Students from Forest Hills High School will interview and record the life stories of senior citizens at the Central Queens Y, located at 67-09 108th St. The two generations will meet once a week for three months, according to Josh Kleinmuntz of the Y’s Senior Adults Department.

“The students will be hearing stories of an entire life, sometimes 90 years worth of living,” Kleinmuntz said. “I can only imagine as a 17 year old, that’s immense. Some of these people were born before cars were used.”

And many of the seniors who are part of the Greatest Generation have lived through more than just innovations in transportation.

“A lot of our members are Holocaust survivors,” Kleinmuntz said.

Many of the seniors also lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

In addition, many passed through Ellis Island when they immigrated to the country, according to Kleinmuntz. Several of the students are also immigrants, which is a connection linking participants from two vastly different eras.

“Some of the seniors actually came over by ship,” he said. “The idea is to have two generations being able to come together and break down some barriers.”

During last year’s project, one woman who had survived the Holocaust told her story to a young Indian immigrant who knew little about the war and accompanying atrocities. The woman was just as ignorant of Indian culture, and the boy explained, for example, his religion and arranged marriages. The learning experience was mutual, according to Kleinmuntz.

The students will record the stories through writing, pictures, audio or video and then give them to the seniors in April. And part of the project will be learning how best to tap into nearly a century’s worth of material.

“Part of it will be learning how to ask the types of questions that lead to the stories,” Kleinmuntz said.

And what the students dig up will not only make for a good tale, but can often provide the seniors with a digestible narrative so they can take stock of their own lives.

“Through the process of life review, one hopefully brings together the entire life as a whole and sort of wraps it up, then it can be looked at from this different perspective,” Kleinmuntz said.

And reading the story of their lives can provide the seniors with a sense of dignity as they enter their autumn years.

The stories will also be useful for the younger generation who are constantly exposed to the lives of famous individuals and celebrities, but according to Kleinmuntz, miss out on the lives of everyday people.

“That’s where life is lived,” Kleinmuntz said. “There is sort of a gap.”

History also records the wars and successes of nations, but the history of everyday life is in shorter supply, Kleinmuntz said.

“This is a generation that is on its way out, and there’s not a lot of documentation about the way people lived,” he said. “But it’s important for future generations to know.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at januta@cnglocal.com.

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