By shar­ing sto­ries, young and old un­cover com­mon chap­ters

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY TARA BAHRAMPOUR

Six­teen-year-old Michael Amanfu looked at the chart that 89-year-old Peggy Adams had filled out about her life. It chron­i­cled the birth of a daugh­ter with Down syn­drome, her wor­ries that the child would not find so­cial ac­cep­tance, and her even­tual re­al­iza­tion that her daugh­ter, now 52, is happy and loved by many.

Adams’s story was mov­ing, but Amanfu was also struck by some­thing else: She had writ­ten it in cur­sive — an an­cient art that he had largely missed out on.

“When I was in third grade they started teach­ing it to us, but by the time my sis­ter started school they didn’t teach it any­more,” he said.

Adams cocked her head. “There is no cur­sive? Isn’t that funny; I think it takes so much more time to print.”

Amanfu, a ris­ing se­nior at Gaithers­burg High School, laughed — then just had to check: “But you can ac­tu­ally print, right?”

Wel­come to In­gle­side at King Farm, a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity where some of Mont­gomery County’s old­est and

“This gives you an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally in­ter­act with them . . . . They en­cour­age you that the next gen­er­a­tion might do a few good things.” School vol­un­teer Ron McKee, 83

youngest res­i­dents have spent the sum­mer ex­chang­ing sto­ries of per­sonal growth and learn­ing about each other’s hand­writ­ing, mu­si­cal tastes and fa­vorite styles of ten­nis shoes.

The Sum­mer Sto­ry­telling Se­ries, cre­ated and ad­min­is­tered by the non­profit group Link Gen­er­a­tions, teaches teenagers about ge­ri­atric is­sues; they then sit down with se­niors to ex­change sto­ries about their lives.

At In­gle­side, 18 stu­dents meet once a week on their own and once a week with 15 to 18 res­i­dents.

While bridg­ing the age chasm, they also weave a di­verse so­ci­o­log­i­cal fab­ric: The kids in the pro­gram, who come from lo­cal pub­lic schools, are largely mi­nori­ties and im­mi­grants; the In­gle­side par­tic­i­pants are largely white.

On Thurs­day, Walt McKee, 83, told the gath­er­ing about a cross­coun­try Win­nebago trip that he and his wife took with their five sons and dog Pixie. It was 1972, and there was gaso­line ra­tioning, a chal­lenge when driv­ing a ve­hi­cle that got eight miles to the gal­lon. (The Win­nebago broke down of­ten, too, lead­ing to a mem­o­rable pic­nic with the fam­ily of an Idaho tow-truck driver.)

Sit­ting at ta­bles in small groups, Joanne Col­bert, 80, de­scribed mov­ing to Japan when she was 10, trav­el­ing on­board a troop ship for 13 days in stormy weather.

“My mother was very sick, and I went and en­ter­tained my­self by talk­ing to other peo­ple,” she said. “I just tramped all over the ship, and they prob­a­bly won­dered who this lit­tle waif was.”

At an­other ta­ble, Ju­nichi Kobayashi, 17, a ris­ing se­nior at Walt Whit­man High School, told his ta­ble com­pan­ions about a jour­ney in the other di­rec­tion: He moved from his na­tive Japan as a child to Korea and then, three years ago, to the United States.

“Chang­ing schools, learn­ing a new lan­guage, that was hard,” he said. He was helped by teach­ers and other stu­dents who had also come from abroad. And soc­cer. “Do­ing sports is good, be­cause it doesn’t re­ally re­quire speak­ing.”

Caro­line Touch­ton, who said she is “over 80,” could em­pathize. She told Kobayashi about mov­ing from a small town in south Ge­or­gia to Chicago dur­ing high school and find­ing that she had not taken the same cour­ses as her new class­mates; she had to go to sum­mer school to catch up.

“I was no­body, and I had been used to be­ing some­body and smart,” she said. “Back in my day, peo­ple went to sum­mer school be­cause they’d flunked. I hadn’t failed; I just hadn’t taken the classes.”

Eldie Kabamba, 14, who moved to the United States from Zim­babwe, could also re­late. “We were kind of col­o­nized by the Bri­tish, so I had had Bri­tish English.” In the United States, “Ev­ery time we had spelling bees I would fail, be­cause my spelling was Bri­tish.”

Each week, the ses­sions fo­cus on a dif­fer­ent theme, such as mu­sic, grat­i­tude or re­silience. Par­tic­i­pa­tion counts as credit to­ward the 75 hours of stu­dent ser­vice that is manda­tory for high school grad­u­a­tion in Mont­gomery County.

For the res­i­dents, spend­ing time with the stu­dents was of­ten rev­e­la­tory. Bob Balkam, 96, said he was sur­prised at their so­phis­ti­ca­tion. “They were ready to talk with the adults al­most on an equal term,” he said.

Ron McKee, 83, no re­la­tion to Walt McKee, vol­un­teers at a high school but mostly sees the stu­dents there from afar. “I never had chil­dren,” he said. “This gives you an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally in­ter­act with them. They’re very com­fort­able. I’m sur­prised at how com­fort­able the kids are. They en­cour­age you that the next gen­er­a­tion might do a few good things.”

Sev­eral re­marked on the fact that many of the stu­dents come from abroad and won­dered how that felt for them at a time of heated po­lit­i­cal rhetoric about im­mi­gra­tion.

“They are very Amer­i­can­ized,” said Char­lie Miller, 89, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. “You can’t dis­tin­guish whether some­one just came over from Botswana or from Rockville High School.”

Stu­dents said that the ses­sions have helped them ap­pre­ci­ate what they have.

“I think now our life is eas­ier than theirs was,” said Siril Stephen, 13, a ris­ing eighth-grader at Red­land Mid­dle School. “Now we can ask our par­ents for a dol­lar for the vend­ing ma­chine, and they had to work re­ally hard to get that dol­lar.”

Marysol Hohl, a ris­ing 10thgrader at Gaithers­burg High School, agreed. “Caro­line, she was telling me about back when women couldn’t be much more than a teacher or a sec­re­tary. I just re­al­ized how lucky I am.”

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

From left, stu­dents Paula Baringanive and Nana Amanfu share sto­ries with B.J. Diggs, a res­i­dent at In­gle­side at King Farm in Mont­gomery County, while in­ter­act­ing as part of Link Gen­er­a­tions’ Sum­mer Sto­ry­telling Se­ries.

PHO­TOS BY BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

ABOVE: Walt McKee, 83, tells his story via mi­cro­phone at In­gle­side at King Farm as stu­dent Siril Stephen lis­tens while in­ter­act­ing as part of Link Gen­er­a­tions’ Sum­mer Sto­ry­telling Se­ries.

LEFT: Marysol Hohl, cen­ter, a ris­ing 10th-grader at Gaithers­burg High School, chats with a se­nior res­i­dent. “Caro­line, she was telling me about back when women couldn’t be much more than a teacher or a sec­re­tary. I just re­al­ized how lucky I am,” Hohl said of an­other en­counter.

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