A new SIRCH program is pairing local listeners with storytelling seniors living with dementia.

The Memories to Life program aims to collect the experiences of those who have early-stage dementia and package them in a scrapbook. Once the disease progresses, it can be a point of connection with loved ones.

“It’s really about listening to people’s stories of their lives,” said SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson.

Volunteers train for a few days with SIRCH and are equipped with scrapbooking know-how as well as training on dementia and SIRCH best practices.

Then, they’ll visit seniors to gather memories. They’ll help collect newspaper clippings, photos and more based on the person’s experiences.

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“In one person’s book: he was a pilot in a war, the volunteer had done research on the plane,” Robertson said. “There can be pictures of families and friends and pets and whatever.”

Jan Saugh, an activation coordinator hired by SIRCH to run the program, said volunteers must only “have a love of seniors, be able to listen and engage, and want to tell their story.”

Compiling memories and experiences into a physical collection of items often unearths recollections in those with dementia.

“It’s to spark recognition for the client, help them remember their accomplishments,” she said.

It’s also for loved ones.

“Families can use the book for conversation pieces for family and friends, and it’s a treasured memory they’ll have forever.”

The upcoming Memories to Life program is funded by a donor who wished to remain anonymous, however Robertson said past experience shows how impactful it can be.

Over a decade ago, volunteers were able to come together with the people who told their stories and share what they created.

Robertson saw how much it meant to elderly residents to have their lives celebrated.

“I remember one man tearing up, saying before he’d done this project, he really didn’t feel like he’d done anything of value in his life,” Robertson said. “This made him realize how much he had.”

To register as a volunteer or sign up as a participant to have your story told, contact SIRCH before the middle of February at 705-457-1742.

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