StoryWise program lets South Hills seniors connect over cherished memories |
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Share a story.

A place you have traveled. Your most inspiring role model. A time you lost big. A recipe that should never be made again.

From a simple prompt, the stories begin to unfold inside Atria South Hills in Baldwin Borough. From those stories, residents find common bonds. They make new friends, remember the past, and, hopefully, live a longer and healthier life.

“It’s a mode of connecting,” said Donna Canovali, community sales director at the senior living community. “The more we’re connected, the less isolated we are. The bottom line is health and wellness.”

It’s the premise of StoryWise, a program based on a box of prompts that inspire residents to share stories about their lives. The cards, created by Atria’s research and development team in Louisville, Ky., are utilized at the personal care home’s happy hours and get togethers.

StoryWise even comes with an app that allows families to record residents’ stories. With the click of a button, they can capture and store videos of a loved one sharing a story forever.

“Once you start sharing stories, you find common ground between you and other people,” Canovali said. “The world needs more common ground.”

The Baldwin Borough facility, where about 80 residents from age early 70s to 102 reside, is the national senior living provider’s only center in Western Pennsylvania. A second facility is under construction in McCandless.

Atria has more than 250 personal care, independent communities across the country. The StoryWise program is being used at all of them.

Hours after they looked at the cards and a group of residents shared stories about their first televisions, resident Frances Pahula, 82, was still talking about TVs from back in the day.

As so often happens, that story prompted her to think about another — how she first met her husband.

“He was such a wonderful guy,” she said.

Some days, Pahula looks at the cards on her own in her room, she said.

One asking her to remember how she learned to ride a bike took her back to when she was 8 years old pedaling on her brother’s bicycle. She recalls everything down to the color — red.

Susan Forsyth, engage life director, said people sitting next to each other who might not talk will strike up a conversation once prompted by a card.

“It just resonates,” she said. “A lot of them have the same stories.”

Just talking about StoryWise led Canovali to reflect on some of her own tales regarding residents at the Baldwin community. She talked about a man in his 90s who had lived with his sister prior to coming to Atria. They missed each other so much, the sister moved in right across the hall from him.

She spoke of the brothers, both veterans, who couldn’t part in their old age. They, too, live right by each other in the facility.

“People belong together,” Canovali said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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