MAY 12, 2011 / Legacy Project / – 10-year-old Chloe Rust of Oregon learned that her grandmother Nancy Judd Minor, 64, had a childhood that was "magical and miserable." Thousands of students across the country interviewed grandparents and grandfriends for the Legacy Project's eleventh annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest. Rust has won the Grand Prize of a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer and $800 of Orchard software for herself, along with $25,000 of Orchard educational software for her school.
Rust's grade 5 teacher, Karen Zurcher at Hallinan Elementary School in Lake Oswego, OR, has been entering students in the Listen to a Life Contest for five years. Zurcher's students receive their contest essay assignment each year around the winter vacation. She says that students not only develop writing and organizational skills, but also make meaningful connections with grandparents and grandfriends.
As she worked on her essay, Rust says she learned a lot about her grandmother that she didn't know before.
Rust starts her essay with her grandmother recounting how every Saturday night she would have to drag her alcoholic parents off barstools at the local tavern.
Saturdays were miserable. But they were also magical because "while their parents drank, Nana and her siblings met friends at the only theater, bought candy at the only drugstore, and borrowed books from the only library. They sat in the car outside the tavern, reading for hours and eating candy."
The poor farm girl grew up to become a beloved English teacher, and her love of books started inside that car parked outside the tavern.
"Chloe's essay has an honesty to it that speaks to overcoming the real-life challenges so many people face," says Legacy Project Chair Susan Bosak. "It stood out among so many other well-written essays that ranged from light-hearted stories about first love to heart-wrenching stories about the Holocaust."
To enter the Listen to a Life Contest, young people 8-18 years interview a grandparent or grandfriend 50 years or older about the older person's hopes and goals through their life, how they achieved their goals and overcame obstacles, or key life experiences. The young person then writes a 300-word essay based on the interview.
The Grand Prize is a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer with $800 of educational software from Orchard Software. The school of the winning young person also receives $25,000 of Orchard educational software. Twenty runner-up prizes include $400 of Orchard software and an MP3 player.
"The $25,000 of Orchard software Chloe won for her school helps the whole community. Students will use it for years to come," says Bosak. "That's a gift that makes Chloe and her grandmother proud."
From Oregon to New York, young people learned important life lessons from the stories shared by older adults. The oldest person interviewed was 100-year-old great-grandmother Anne Katz of Texas. "Grandma has taught me many lessons," writes her great-grandson 12-year-old Jake Hudson. "The most valuable are to appreciate my education, work hard, and always help my family. Also, never give up. I'm lucky to have her and very fortunate that at 100, she can still teach me great life lessons."
Runner-up Avery Bieri, 16, of Minnesota discovered the life lessons that potato picking taught her grandmother Janet Dyer,
67. No matter what her grandmother faced in life, "nothing could be harder than being bent over all day in the sweltering heat. Life is a never-ending cycle of hard work and rewards – the harder you work, the greater your prize."
17-year-old Ying Xu of New York, who interviewed his neighbor Marta Braiterman Tanenbaum, 59, summed it all up by writing, "I think younger generations will really profit if they listen to the words of old ladies and wrinkly old grandpas. Although our society and our technology will continue to change, the generations of people before us will always have something to give to the future. It's up to us, the young people, to take the wisdom of old people and run with it."
Many teachers commented how positive the experience was for families. Says Lori Halbison, a teacher in Higley, AZ, "I can't tell you how many thank you's I received from parents just because they learned more about the grandparent interviewed and it was valuable for the whole family."
The next Listen to a Life Contest begins September 11, national Grandparents Day, and runs to the end of March, 2012. The annual contest is run by the Legacy Project, a big-picture learning project that offers parents and teachers ideas and activities for building closer relationships across generations. Generations United in Washington, DC, partners with the Legacy Project on the contest to reach children, youth, and seniors across the US.
To find out more, visit www.legacyproject.org.