Story and photos by Doug Petrowski
Amanda O’Hara was looking for a high school senior project that would challenge her relationally and creatively. She found it among seniors of another generation.
O’Hara, a member of the Mountlake Terrace High School Class of 2013, spent seven months interviewing 15 residents of the Merrill Gardens Mountlake Terrace Plaza, then wrote poems about each one. The “Where I’m From” poems and accompanying portraits were displayed during a gallery event at the senior living residential facility on Tuesday night.
“Once a month for about two hours I would come in and lead some discussions in group sessions,” said O’Hara of the project. “I was kind of nervous at first, but they were all so sweet and nice to me.”
Those discussions led O’Hara to learn about the childhoods and early lives of the 15 residents; “I have pages and pages of notes,” O’Hara confessed. From those notes, O’Hara crafted poems for each resident.
The poems are all structured with sentences beginning “I’m from …” and then describe various aspects of the lives of each senior.
Photographs of each resident were taken by Mountlake Terrace Plaza Active Living Director Lisa Elijah, who helped O’Hara formulate the project. Elijah has helped other high schoolers connect with the home’s residents for school projects previously, and welcomes the opportunities to bring young people and seniors together.
“It’s really important for both generations to stay in contact with the other,” Elijah said. “It’s important for the younger generation to get to know about another generation and to become comfortable with older people. And for the older generation, it just brings them happiness.”
Elijah had strong praise for O’Hara and the work she did during the seven months leading up to Tuesday’s gallery presentation. “She came to the table really well organized,” Elijah said.
The poems and photographs are also being compiled in book form. “Where I’m From” is available for purchase online here.
After graduating from MTHS, O’Hara plans to attend Oregon State University this fall to study Environmental Engineering.
Excerpt from “Where I’m From”
I’m from Pablo, Montana, where everything was big.
I’m from two brothers, sleeping on the couch in our little log cabin.
I’m from fantastic parents, and daddy turning the porch into a room for me.
I’m from Bill the carpenter, and Blanche, the sweetest lady on this earth – always working like a son of a gun.
I’m from playing games all over town and playing baseball in school.
I’m from working for a surgeon in downtown Seattle.
I’m from being young and falling in love every time I turned around.