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Listen to a Life Contest
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Listen to a Life Contest Grand Prize Winner
Congratulations to MacKenna Healy, 12
and her great-grandmother Barbara Fimbel, 93
Listen to a Life Story Contest Grand Prize Winner

MacKenna is a grade 6 student at West Amwell Elementary School in Lambertville, NJ. She was encouraged to enter the Listen to a Life Contest by her teacher Beth Sargeaunt.

MacKenna entered the contest because it was a great opportunity to try something new that she could be good at. From participating, she learned that no one can say what you can and can't do. She also learned a lot more about her great-grandmother and her life before MacKenna came into it.

MacKenna enjoys writing, acting, baking, skateboarding, cheerleading, basketball and music – she plays the piano, tenor saxophone, and ukulele.

Here is MacKenna's winning entry…


Most of us don't think about how much we use technology. We rely on technology for many of the things we do, including communication. Life has evolved thanks to technology, but has Nana's? I have been fortunate to grow up with technology, but my great-grandmother's journey has just begun.

"My dream is for there to be none of this technology," says Nana. "None of it."

My first inclination was to chuckle at that. But after I thought about her comment a bit more, I realized what she meant.

For each advantage technology has brought to my life, it seems to have brought a disadvantage to Nana's. From smartphones and apps, to the Internet and email, these have all been basic tools in my communication toolbox. That has not been the case for Nana. She grew up with a completely different toolbox filled with pens and paper, newspapers, get-togethers, and friends. Technology has been the hardest addition to her toolbox. Much of what she has known has become obsolete.

Technology isn't new-fangled just to Nana; many people don't understand it. She doesn't want the world to change so fast. Her vision is for people to be together and interact with each other. Yes, texting is faster. But if you were to only text, not speak to, your mother, do you think you would have a very close relationship with her? Likely not.

My point is that Nana resents much of today's technology – and she makes a valid point. Perhaps true connections suffer at the hands of technology without us even noticing. In fact, I used technology to write this story and you are using technology to read it. Maybe we are only disconnected when we're online.

Listen to a Life Contest Legacy Award Winners
Alyssa Wu, 13, and grandmother Yaran Liu, 73, California


Since March, we had to leave our school campus because of the pandemic. At first, I felt relaxed. But soon I was bored. I called my grandmother, far away in China, to talk about my lack of interest. She told me her story.

"My dream was always to be a singer. In 1966, when I was a senior in high school, I took the interview for the Central Conservatory of Music, successfully passed the two rounds of tests, and got the conformity certificate. All I needed to do was pass the national college entrance examination."

"Then the Cultural Revolution broke out, and all colleges were closed. In those dark years, the Red Guards repudiated their teachers and principals as 'stinking intellectuals' and pressed them into service as laborers. There was no hope of going to college, and I could not find any resources to study independently. The only books we could read were Chairman Mao's quotations. When the college entrance examination resumed in 1977, I was already 30 years old. I was a music teacher in an elementary school, and your mother was just two. The busy work made me finally give up."

"My college dream came true when I was nearly 50 years old. I was already gray-haired, with reading glasses. Every night, I sat under the lamp and opened the textbook; a sense of happiness came out. What great happiness it was to have the freedom and resources to learn knowledge!"

"There are always things that happen in life that may change your path, but learning should never be stopped. Learning is not for the scores on the transcript, but for yourself. Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change."

Amanda Wylie, 15, and great-aunt Patty Hutton, 70, Massachusetts

Alone in her uncle's backyard orchard, five-year-old Patty scrambled up a ladder, eager to snag a newly ripe apple. Suddenly, her legs refused to function, sending her tumbling to the ground. Dazed and confused, Patty dragged her tiny body all the way back to her uncle's doorstep.

It was immediately clear that something was wrong. Patty was taken to the hospital that night to receive some devastating news: the little girl had contracted polio. Doctors were unsure how to handle her at first; after all, she was only the 21st polio case in Massachusetts. One thing was apparent though: Patty was paralyzed from the waist down and would likely never walk again.

Months of quarantine followed, the days marked by crippling loneliness and no medical improvement.

Then, on March 12, 1955, the results of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine trial were announced. Salk's vaccine was licensed later that day, paving the way for its widespread distribution. Patty's mother was leery of the brand-new vaccine, but her father insisted that they do anything and everything to save their daughter. Squeezing her father's hand, Patty mustered the strength to down the putrid oral version of Salk's remedy.

Slowly, her condition began to improve, a miracle that had seemed impossible when she was diagnosed. Upon Patty's discharge from the hospital, her father focused on the next miracle: teaching her to walk again.

Every day, Patty's father would come home from work and place the girl on the kitchen table, leading her through difficult physical therapy exercises. After months of relentless pushing, she finally regained control of her legs.

Today, in the midst of another quarantine, Patty's experience seems all the more relevant. She prays not only for a vaccine, but for coronavirus patients to have supporters as fierce as her father.

Martina Pfleger, 11, and grandfriend Diane Taylor, 63, Arizona


Fire, pain and death, that's all she saw. People running around causing trouble. But she couldn't go back, couldn't run back to the safety of her home. So instead, she took a deep breath, told herself it was going to be fine and started walking up to the camera.

"That day was one of the scariest days of my life," says Diane, remembering what happened. That was the day when she had to report about the Los Angeles riots where 12,111 people were arrested, over 1 billion property damage, 63 dead, and over 2,000 injured. The riots included looting, arson, protest and more. Five days, it only took five days to cause so much destruction.

Diane was always interested in reporting, but never thought that her career
would take her here. "It was a terrifying experience and I hope I never have to go through that again," she says.

The riots were probably one of the most horrifying civil rights disruptions in history. They all started because of a very inhuman act. A white police force pulled over Rodney King, an African American, after he was speeding on his motorcycle and started violently beating him.

This experience of getting to hear people's life stories was so amazing and really showed me that we are never going to achieve perfect equality, but we are getting there. I was inspired by Diane's story and how she was able to stand out there with a great risk of getting injured, or even killed, to report the truth.

Sequoia G. Lamperth, 9, and grandfather Robert "Bob" Goeden, 67, Washington

Did you know my grandpa lived through a tornado? It's true!

It happened when he was a fourth grader. The tornado took the neighborhood schoolhouse, blew it up into the air and then slammed it into the ground. The tornado didn't have to be too big, only about a half-mile wide, to do that, though, because the schoolhouse wasn't very large. Even though kindergarten through eighth grade pupils went to that school, it was only one room.

As the tornado hit, it threw books up to 35 miles away. The tornado whipped through my grandpa's house, making the doors not fit anymore, so his family had to take them out and then put them in tilted diagonally.

My grandpa's family tried to outrun the tornado in their car, but the tornado picked up the back of the car and turned it sideways in the road. My grandpa tried to be brave like his dad, who had his hands on the steering wheel and was sitting upright while the tornado heaved them around, but he was afraid and dove onto the floor with his brother and sisters.

The tornado charged throughout their neighborhood and demolished everything in its path. During the tornado, my grandpa's collie, Sport, disappeared. He had been picked up and carried off. More than two weeks later, he came home with a few broken bones and scrapes, but he was otherwise fine.

After that, my grandpa never underestimated nature again.

Aanchal Puri, 12, and piano teacher Nevilla E. Ottley, 74, Maryland


Standing in front of hundreds of people for my first performance, I realized I had a lump in my throat. I could not sing! I was panicking with fear, wondering what am I going to do? I cannot stand here, and I cannot run off the stage!

"Swallow it!" I heard from behind the curtains. It was my mother.

I was scared but did as I was told. I was now ready to sing. I sang with such emotion while picturing the lyrics dancing inside my head, swaying to the rhythm of the song.

After I finished my song, people were speechless, wondering how a little child could have such a powerful voice.

To my surprise, my daddy told me a man talked with him and invited me to sing on the radio. Since I was three at the time, I was very excited.

The next day we drove eagerly to the recording studio. I recall that I was sitting on a tall chair behind a microphone and in front of me was a man who gave me some instructions. I sang my heart out, expressing the lyrics that were before my eyes.

The recording aired weeks later when I had measles. My mother asked me, "Do you know who that is?"

Shocked I replied, "Yeah, is that me?" It was later, as an adult, I found out that the station aired my recording on a program called Your Story Hour.

This event affected my life in many ways, wanting me to share this message with the world. I want to tell the world that music is a universal gift that is shared by all walks of people, regardless of culture and race. Music is an art form that unites the world into one.

Jax Armstrong, 16, and grandfriend Chimbe Abedayo, 52, California


Long dreadlocks, baggy pants, skateboard in hand, no shirt – it was LA.

Every morning, Chimbe would wake up, skip class, and go to see Maria on the basketball courts. Maria was from Houston and moved to LA three years prior with her mom and grandma. She was stunning, and she loved to watch him skate. One morning, Maria sat down on the bench next to the court.

"Nice chain," she smoothly said in that effortlessly cute way – the first words Maria had uttered to Chimbe, despite watching him skate for days. All of a sudden, Chimbe was from Houston, too.

He didn't know how to respond. Chimbe had always been naturally charming and never failed to win a girl over. But this time, it was different. Chimbe gave her a smirk and returned to his skateboard. Moments later Chimbe asked Maria if she wanted to go for a walk. She said yes.

Maria pretended not to notice the blue bandana in the back-left pocket of Chimbe's sagging jeans. The daughter of a notorious gangster, Maria had ties to the Latin Kings, an infamous LA street gang. Conversely, Chimbe was a member of the Rollin' 60's, a faction of the Crips, another infamous gang in LA.

Despite their deeply-rooted rivalry, Maria and Chimbe began to pursue a romantic relationship. Chimbe loved everything about Maria – her smile, her voice, her aspirations to be an actress. Maria reciprocated this passionate affection. The pair decided to leave Los Angeles, and move to Riverside, California, leaving their gang affiliations behind and starting from scratch.

After my first break-up, Chimbe told me this story, and showed me true love transcends any other feeling one may have. Once found, true love trumps any obligations, regrets, or fears that haunt you.

Greta Gullborg, 18, and grandfriend Mary-Ann Smith, 95, Wisconsin

Waking up 75 years to the same person. For 75 years. The same daily conversations. The same kisses goodnight. The same family stories and traditional, home-cooked meals. For 75 years.

I interviewed one of the residents I take care of. I wanted to learn more about what made her who she is today. I learned she had been with the same person for 75 years.

She is one of those ladies I walk past and a smile crawls across my face; she is the sweetest person in the room.

A conversation arose at the dining table during dinner as we were chowing down spaghetti and meatballs. A co-worker of mine asked how old each resident was and when they got married, graduated from college, or how old they were when they had children. I listened to the residents' responses and then Mary-Ann talked. She said, "18."

I was in shock. I asked, "How did you stay with each other for all those years? How did you not annoy each other, fight all the time, and continue having a love strong enough to light a fire and keep it burning forever? What is your secret? What is the secret for a long, happy, and healthy marriage?"

"Faith, love, and trust."

Those three words might sound simple; but, she told me to think of them as baking ingredients: all those ingredients added together to make something special, a happy, healthy marriage.

I felt inspired. She showed kindness, courage, and passion about her life and shared that with everyone she talked to. All that is needed is a little bit of faith, a lot of trust – and a whole lot of love to wake up to the same person for 75 years.

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