Bridging the Gap – How the Honoring Elders Project Brings Generations Together with Storytelling

Honoring Elders Project Green Bay

It’s easy to point a critical finger at society and talk about “how things once were” (I’m only 30 and even I have said that).

Most of these arguments about the decline of our character do have some validity to them, but the discussion usually stops there. We seldom dig deeper into the lives and stories of people who lived during “the good old days.”

Kara Counard decided to create a new ending to this conversation. She uses her skills as a professional photographer to give back to the Green Bay community by pairing together elementary aged kids and the elderly through ‘storytelling photography’ with the Honoring Elders Project.

The format is simple: Teach a 5th grade class some interviewing skills and photography basics for a few weeks, bring them into an assisted living community, and pair them up with a resident.

As they conduct their interviews, the kids hear living history right from people who live in their own town, and authentic friendships are born.

The students take pictures of their subjects, interview them, and make a book about their lives. Then, they follow up with a visit later on in the school year to share their book with their partner and give it to them as a gift.

It’s really a win-win situation, because all parties involved walk away with so much. The students not only receive lessons in interviewing, shorthand note-taking, and photography basics (natural light, composition), but they are given the freedom to experiment artistically as well.

They walk away with confidence after interviewing a stranger/community member who often becomes their friend. The elderly are given a new purpose, and their importance to Green Bay is affirmed.

Honoring Elders book

Sharing a finished book with the Honoring Elders Project

This project was birthed after Kara completed other projects involving both the elderly and youth.

In 2011, her ‘101 Women Project’ featured 101 women (of all ages) from the Green Bay area, and pictured each woman where she felt most at home. In 2012, the Art Garage featured Kara’s ‘Women over 90’, a work which featured 33 women in our region who were at least 90 years old, and showcased both their beauty and the mark that they have left in the Green Bay area.

These experiences involved not only capturing images of people, but also hearing their stories. That’s what inspired the idea for the Honoring Elders Project. Kara found a way to use cameras and conversations to create a learning experience for kids, as well as something that makes our community stronger.

When trying to convey what types of tangible connections are made through this interview and book-making process, Kara mentions, “I don’t feel like my words could say these things adequately,” and I’d have to agree.

Connections are felt more than described, and the response from the students says it all. Kara mentions that the students walk away excited, telling each other about the stories that they have heard and their ideas for what their book should look like.

Kara has taken a powerful lesson away from these projects. The elderly aren’t just playing bingo and waiting to pass on. They are the foundations of everything we see in our region on a daily basis.

For example, she can’t drive by the McDonald’s/Taco Bell plaza on the GV/172 exit without thinking of the prisoner from the Reformatory who hid in the barn that once stood there – until the dogs found him. She met the woman who was instrumental in making sure the Apostle Islands were recognized as a national shoreline, and she also interviewed the mother of the manager of Bon Jovi (and yes, she still goes to their concerts).

Many of these residents were involved in a war-time era that is now somewhat removed from our lives. Some of them hid alcohol from the Feds during the prohibition. Others gave stories of how towns in our area started.

When they were students themselves, many of them juggled speaking a native language at home, while learning English in school. A few mentioned going back to school later in life because they felt their children knew more than they did. Still others were taken out of school despite being top of their class because they were needed at home (not something you would see happening today).

WhooNEW wouldn’t exist without stories like that, and neither would the Honoring Elders Project.

Kara Counard does all of her work for the project on a volunteer basis. You can help keep this community project alive by donating cameras – or if you’re a teacher – signing up your class to work with her.

These incredible residents live right here in our area, and the fact that our youth are now befriending them and preserving their stories is a treasure that we should be proud of and thankful for.

Honoring Elders Hug

How to Get Involved with the Honoring Elders Project

If you’d like to volunteer your time, donate equipment or get your class/school involved with the Honoring Elders Project, use the information below to contact Kara Counard.

Watch a Video Featuring the Honoring Elders Project

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