Bella Bouzari and a photo of the Streetsboro Senior Center Event

Living History: Planning the Event of a Lifetime with Isabella Bouzari

POSTED: Apr. 20, 2023

When I first came to Kent State in 2019, I was determined to follow the path of becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist. My counselor at the Twinsburg branch campus explained to me how Human Development and Family Sciences with a Family Life Education concentration would be the perfect fit for me. For the last 4 years, I was still set on that same end goal. Three years ago, I entered into the workforce with the older adult population. I started out as an Activities Assistant at a skilled nursing home, and then being an in-home Caregiver for Portage County over the last two years. During the last semester of my college career, I felt a strong need to stay involved with the elderly after graduation.

HDFS senior Bella Bouzari with a senior from Streetsboro Senior Center.

I realized that my heart and true passion resides in interacting with the senior population.

When it came time to start my internship in January, I knew that I had to find a place where I could complete my time with seniors. I have always been creative and had a passion for facilitating activities with my clients in their home as a Caregiver. It was my goal to find a senior center to collaborate with, which is when I found the Streetsboro Senior Center. I was hired by Kent State Alumnus Greg Mytinger, Director of Streetsboro Parks and Recreation. I was granted the opportunity to come up with an idea for a new program. When my supervisor, the Streetsboro Senior Center Coordinator, Theresa Summers and I first met, she asked me what ideas I had for a program.

I had been thinking hard about this over the winter break because I had to have something meaningful to give to these people who were letting me in and giving me such an amazing opportunity. I came up with the idea for seniors to reflect on a meaningful or sentimental time in their life and conduct one on one interviews with the seniors discussing their story. My supervisor suggested, and I agreed, that we should have them select a sentimental item whether it be a family heirloom, a career story, a hobby, a memory, etc. My end goal for this idea was to invite the public and community in for a story exhibition on display as a way to connect the seniors with the different generations in our community. It started out with only seven interview sign-ups at the very beginning, and we ended up having 25 stories on display.

The possibilities of ideas were endless. The goal was to keep it as open as possible to ensure that each senior felt that their story could be heard. I conducted each interview with the participants, and transcribed their answers that were put on display for the community to come in and see the responses next to their sentimental item. We ended up having 200 attendees. The event and initial program roll out was sponsored by the incredible Rebecca Moore from Tamarack Ridge and Heritage of Hudson. The seniors, staff, community, friends, and family provided appetizers as well. My closest friend, Emily Schmidt, was kind enough to donate individual roses for each senior participant as a thank you for their participation in the program.

A crowd gathers in the Streetsboro Student Center for a night of stories from community seniors.

Both the participants and guests equally got something out of this program. Whichever end you were on, you could feel the energy and the love because it is solely produced from human connection.

We all have a story and whether they are similar or different, there is always a way to connect or be relatable to one another.

Simply because of the emotions that are attached to our stories. Some may present the same experiences, but the variation of emotions for each individual story is what makes them unique. Maybe you’ve never traveled, or gone through heartbreak, but if you listen to these seniors' stories, you can relate to the exact feeling of excitement or sadness that comes with that experience. Relatively, we all experience some of the same emotions as one another in our lifetime, and that is exactly what made the night so beautiful. Everyone just instantly connected, which is something that you cannot plan to happen. It is something that just happens organically. That night, the community and seniors proved that we are all connected in more ways than we may realize.

Of course, you never know how an event or a program will turn out. However, it was an honor to witness the interaction between multiple generations during our exhibition. It was so heartwarming, you found yourself savoring every moment because you never wanted it to end. Not only experiencing it interactively, but just stepping back as an observer too. The conversations between every single person in the room were happening because each individual was completely invested in sharing and listening to each other's stories. There’s just nothing else quite like that. Back in January, I presented a slideshow presentation to the seniors where I initially proposed the program. The objectives I proposed were mainly that it could connect different generations and spark conversations to uncover similarities or differences between different age groups and see how our culture and values have shifted over time.

A Streetsboro Senior receiving a rose for their participation in the program.

After witnessing the exhibition, those objectives were clearly met. You could feel the impact in the air that night, not only from the seniors, but from the audience. I think that everybody left that night with something to take away, or to reflect on after. That was the one thing that I had hoped for because of how hard the seniors worked, and how meaningful and beautiful their stories were. Every single minute of the work that was put in from the initial presentation, the multiple marketing flyers, the commercial for the event, and then the actual event was more than worth it. I enjoyed every second of working on this project and getting to know each senior on a personal level.

This specific group of seniors have become like family, and they will always be recognized as some of the people who taught me so much about myself and about my future.

None of this could’ve happened without them participating in the program, believing in it, and trusting in me to carry out their stories to present to the public. I couldn’t have done it without my supervisors having that same faith in me and in the idea. All it takes is one person to believe in you and help you create an opportunity not only for the seniors, but for the community. The community of Streetsboro and the Senior Center did just that.

My love for the elderly has only continued to grow since I have been in my courses at Kent State that heavily discuss ageism. At the end of the day, programs like these begin to bridge the gap between each generation. When people from different walks of life come together and discuss their stories, it displays the simple fact that no matter how much we change or age physically on the outside, our minds and souls remain that same spirit on the inside. We will continue to grow older and change both physically and mentally every year, but it’s almost as if our minds stop “aging” past a certain point. We are always that same person inside, despite what the outside reflects. If we continue to have programs such as this one, I believe that societal problems like ageism will hopefully become less of an issue in the years to come.

I cannot thank the city of Streetsboro workers and the seniors enough for allowing me into their world for the last four months. They have enriched my life in more ways than not. I am beyond grateful for my HDFS faculty, Kathy Bergh, Dr. Kathy Walker, Dr. Samantha Jones, Dr. Kelly Cichy, and Dr. Maureen Blankemeyer. These are the professors that came out not only to support that event, but who have supported me immensely over the last few years.

HDFS faculty Dr. Samantha Jones, Dr. Kathleen Walker, Bella Bouzari, Kathy Bergh, and Dr. Kelly Cichy at the event.

Although we spend such short times with them in our courses, they become major impacts and key players in our lives. It flies by so fast, but really becomes a full circle moment when they attend your first professional program and event. I could not have put it together without utilizing the skills that they taught me in our coursework. There truly are just never enough words to express or begin to explain the gratitude that I feel for these people in this college.

Looking back over the last four years, I can’t believe that this is where I ended up in comparison to my first day of college at the branch campus.

The HDFS major is such a tight knit community and they become your second family, both the professors and the students.

We HDFS students are so lucky that we have the faculty that we do. Their mentorship and guidance alone is what allows us to strive in the ways that we do. I really give them so much credit. They are some of the most passionate and intelligent people that I have ever met, and they have inspired me during all of this time. They definitely will continue to be in my heart and mind in any future endeavor that I have. It is impossible not to remember where you came from. It’s an extremely humbling experience, and I will never forget them, my time at Kent State, the seniors and my supervisors who I’ve worked with, or my time at my internship.