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Social Work Students Gain Experience Working with Older Adults, Help Preserve Oral History

oral history

View a photo slideshow of the project.

Posted June 22, 2011
Reported by Emily Williams

Students in Associate Professor Stacey Kolomer’s Working with Older Adults course have teamed up with UGA’s Archway Partnership to help preserve the oral history of Hart County, while giving social work students experience working with older adults. For the last year and a half, student’s in Kolomer’s class have been traveling to Hart County to conduct life review interviews with older adults. Audio clips from the interviews are being used in various media to help preserve the oral history of the community.

“It’s been a really fabulous project,” Kolomer said.  “I really like the idea that the students are getting what they need out of it and meeting the objectives of the course, but more importantly it is contributing to the community and something that is community driven.”

Social work students were paired with an older adult who lives in Hart County. The students conducted life review interviews with the older adults, asking questions about their upbringing and memories from their life in the community. The students recorded the conversation with a digital audio recorder and later shared that recording with the older adult and his or her family. Additionally, students were required to write and audio record a narrative about the person’s life, telling the story of the person they interviewed in their own words. Some of the audio clips from the interviews were used in a podcast of a walking tour of downtown Hartwell.  A mini-documentary on the history of the Hartwell dam is currently in production and uses audio and video clips from the interviews. 

 “It’s a beautiful mixture,” Kolomer said. “It gives the students some insight into aging and breaks down stereotypes. Many of these interviewees are from rural Georgia and have had a very different upbringing.  It gives our students the opportunity to connect with a stranger, which is really important in social work. It helps develop their interview skills while having the opportunity to not be a clinician.”

"Interviewing an older adult in Hartwell was a very moving experience,” said B.S.W. student Katie Crosby.  “It was fascinating to hear old stories regarding the Hartwell area as well as to receive such profound wisdom from men and women with much life experience. We have much to learn from older generations."

Kolomer also explained the benefits of this project to the older adult and to the community. “It provides them the opportunity to share their wisdom, to tell their life story to someone and it’s certainly allowing them to contribute to their community. They are providing feedback that’s going to help the historical society grow, which is one of the priorities of the community,” she said. 

Kolomer and her class have been working with Ilka McConnell, a Hart County Archway Partnership coordinator, who has been serving the Hart County community since 2008. The Archway Partnership exists in eight counties throughout Georgia and links communities in need of economic development with University of Georgia resources. The Archway Partnership, along with community leaders, identified priority areas of the community and then work together to address those priorities.

“The oral history project was the idea of a community member,” McConnell said. “A gentleman in the community, who was really active in the historical society and some of the different history related nonprofits in town, passed away unexpectedly. Think about how much history was in his head and not written down. As time goes on, we are going to lose a lot of these folks in the community who know so much just from experience and because they are really passionate about history…Wouldn’t it be neat if we could capture some information about their lives?”

McConnell  and a team of community members started with a paper brochure illustrating historic downtown Hartwell, featuring 32 historic landmarks. The tour was adapted to a downloadable podcast and video walking tour.

“In listening back to interviews from last year that students did, just hearing the conversations, it’s neat to hear that some things are universal like your parents and how you get along with your siblings and falling in love and trying to decide what you want to do with your life and deciding where to move and things like that,” McConnell said.

More about the walking tour: http://archwaypartnership.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Walking-Tour_2.24.11_cropped.pdf

More about the Archway Partnership: http://archwaypartnership.uga.edu/