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The intergenerational poetry project

The Mystic Geriatric Institute hosted its second annual reading of poetry with a reception for the Intergenerational Poetry Project’s two poets from East Lyme High School — Noelle Avena and Eve Slemp — and two poets from Stonington High School — Sarah Berger and Molly Neal.

At the Mystic Noank Library, this event was squeezed in on the last day of National Poetry Month in April.

Opening remarks by Dr. Chris Morren, a geriatrician and president of the Mystic Geriatric Institute, explained the vision of the Intergenerational Poetry Project.

“The IPP connects the oldest generation to the youngest. In doing so, it validates the life of the elder and enriches the life of the younger,” he said.

Melanie Greenhouse, a published playwright and poet, worked closely with Dr. Morren to execute their vision. Greenhouse met the students regularly to coach them on the poetry she envisioned.

“Doing this during a pandemic made it more cumbersome. We had extra hurdles to jump but we were determined.”

Diane Brouder, the daughter of Louise Stoetzner and an Essex psychotherapist, said that the IPP was a real benefit for her mom during the pandemic as poetry is very healing and can be therapeutic.

She loved the intergenerational component of this project as well. Brouder believes that every time people connect, there is potential for change and expansion for both.

“The connection between the young poets and my mother helped her feel known and appreciated at this time in her life and reduced her sense of isolation during the pandemic,” she said.

Noelle Avena’s poem captured Ms. Stoetzner’s personality and style in a sensitive and artistic way. “The poems will become family treasures. The event itself was very enriching for both of us! I plan to stay in touch with the Mystic Geriatrics Institute.”

Greenhouse indicated it was really important that the young poets captured the voice of their subject. “I wanted them to use first person when writing to increase the depth and impact of their words.”

All of the students translated narrative and direct quotes into poems.

Jeff Beale, an East Lyme English teacher and faculty coach for the school newspaper The Viking Saga, said, “These students demonstrate amazing talent and have extremely busy schedules. They are students, athletes, musicians and community volunteers.”

The selected students were each given an octogenerian or nonagenerian to interview. With Greenhouse’s suggested prompts, the students interacted with their elders and discovered life experiences and nuances that enlightened their perspectives.

In her opening comments, Berger, who is a junior at Stonington High School, raced back to the morning event from a regatta. She stated that this was her first opportunity to speak with an old person. She met with her subject Lizzy (94 years young) on several occasions discovering important details and formative events in her life. Lizzy’s family was from a group of hard-working people who toiled at the Stonington Velvet Mill or on the waters fishing. One of Lizzy’s brother’s lost his life when he fell overboard and was eaten by a shark.

Neale met with Mary, her elder, by phone and lively discussions ensued. Her wonderful personality shone through the phone calls. Molly said, “The IPP was a chance for me to gain respect for the older generation and their defining experiences, and for me to learn from those experiences in the form of stories they had.”

Molly’s poems contained pearls of wisdom: “never gossip, learn to keep secrets, be focused, stay strong, and back yourself up because, in the end, you are the only person you have to rely on.”

Slemp captured poetic images of Hardeep Channe’s early life in Kenya and her transition to a nursing student while in the United Kingdom. As a nurse, Channe provided medical care to any and all who needed assistance. “It wasn’t about the color of the (patient’s) skin, it was about their medical need.”

And as nursing students, Channe learned that regardless of the color of their skin, all of the learners struggled to master the information and training to become qualified nurses and receive their degrees upon graduation.

Louise Stoetzner, who is 91 years young, had her work in the medical field compressed by Avena in the poems she wrote. Stoetzner said that she was “thrilled beyond words” to be part of this project.

Lucas Neil, a hugely talented vocalist, guitarist and East Lyme High School alumnus, provided music before the reception and as interludes between poetic readings. Neil wrote for The Viking Saga while at ELHS and was ecstatic that Beale was in the audience to hear him play, especially his own musical composition.

“I’ve long been in love with the wisdom of older individuals, as well as the poetry of young, energetic people,” hes said. “This group is mending those worlds in such a beautiful way-a way that everyone involved can benefit from.”

Neil concluded by saying, “I was overjoyed to be involved with such an event and I look forward to seeing how this group evolves.”

The Power of Together, a Mystic charitable organization, helped in funding this project. To find out more, go to mysticgeriatricinstitute.com.

Cate Steel lives in East Lyme. Find out more about her at catesteel.com.

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