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LifeVerse: Library Programs for Older Adults

Greensboro Public Library
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Innovation Leader: Steve Sumerford, Assistant Director, steve.sumerford@greensboro-nc.gov

Problem Statement

In 2006, the Greensboro Public Library analyzed its services to older adults and concluded that we did not have staff resources to meet the needs of this population, particularly those living in retirement and nursing facilities. Several times per week, activity directors at these facilities were inviting us to offer library programs in their venues, but we only had the capacity to program for a small fraction of the facilities. The programs that we were able to offer were usually one-off type events that prevented library staff from developing meaningful relationships with the participants. Few of our programs were appropriate for adults living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and few provided the participants an outlet for creative expression, something that research says is very important for this age group’s mental, physical and emotional health.

Innovation

We launched an intergenerational , volunteer-based lifelong learning project called LifeVerse in 2007. Community volunteers are trained to take poetry-based programs to older adult venues (assisted living centers, adult day cares, etc). The volunteers, many of whom come from English, creative writing and gerontology programs of local colleges, are trained to: 1) facilitate memories/discussions of poems/verse that are familiar to this age group; 2) introduce them to contemporary poems; 3) facilitate the writing of group poems. The LifeVerse volunteers spend six weeks at each venue, with the same participants, thus developing meaningful relationships between the volunteer and the participants. In addition to reminiscing about poems they remember from childhood, participants learn about trends in contemporary poetry such as free verse and spoken word.

Progress

Over 250 volunteers have been trained to deliver LifeVerse programs. Over 75 older adult organizations/facilities have hosted at least one six-week LifeVerse series; most hosted several. Because the program taps into childhood memories through verse, adults living with dementia and Alzheimer’s can easily participate. Activity directors now call the library specifically asking for LifeVerse programs. Poems written by the participants are regularly posted at assisted living facilities or included in monthly newsletters of. Activity directors frequently refer to their LifeVerse participants as their “poets in residence.” It has become a popular option for students who need service learning credits. In 2010, we published a 100 page collection called “The LifeVerse Anthology: Poems from Greensboro’s Older Adults.” In 2009, LifeVerse was selected by the Office of Literacy and Outreach section of ALA as the “Best Diversity Program of the Year.”