This past summer, we had the honor of working with a group of talented teens as part of our Teen Internship Program. Two dozen teens volunteered their time assisting in our summer camps or interviewing and documenting the stories of Red Bank seniors and other notable citizens for “The Interview Project.” I loved every minute I spent with these incredible teens―training them and learning about them as writers, watching them teach lessons or coach the younger students in our summer camps, and seeing them present their interviewees at our celebration and speak about their experiences. This is such a special program that we offer and I wanted to offer a teen’s perspective, so I asked Bethaney to write about how “The Interview Project” impacted her.
–Jennifer Chauhan, Executive Director
Imagine you’re 85-years-old and no one has ever asked you to sit down and talk about your life experiences. Think of all of the things you’re dying to say and the things in life you’ve never stopped to consider, to remember, or to cherish. Think about the opportunity to make a connection with someone. Laughing, reflecting, crying, and smiling. Imagine the flood of thoughts and memories and emotions. How you can’t stop yourself from spontaneously changing from subject to subject because you haven’t touched these places in your life for so long and they’re all just rushing out of you.
This is the essence of what “The Interview Project” was like for me. As I attended “The Interview Project” celebration on September 1st at the Red Bank Public Library, I felt so happy for the interviewees. As they shared stories about themselves, their words filled the room with nostalgia. I couldn’t help thinking that these people have probably never had to answer these questions before―about their regrets, their dreams, their passions. I could feel the excitement from the way they were speaking. The way that they were watching themselves unfold alongside the audience.
“The Interview Project” adds much-needed humanity and connection to our community. Red Bank was the “common ground” for all of the interviewees. Whether it was where they lived, worked, or visited, there was a connection. They could all relate to each other somehow. During the celebration, many of them discovered, to their surprise, that they had the same elementary school teacher or walked the same streets coming home from school. Whatever it was, they found some way to connect, relate, and relive their lives as if they had all been intertwined. The interviewees, though different races, ages, and genders, all found a way to connect.
Personally, “The Interview Project” made me so much more aware and accepting. I found myself walking around town, saying, “Wait, Bethaney, you don’t know that person. You don’t know their story. Don’t you dare judge them.” Before I began my interview, I didn’t know anything about the woman I was interviewing, Grace Atkins. Because of the unique opportunity “The Interview Project” gave me, I was able to learn about her. I learned about her childhood and what it was like for her living through World War II. She told me about her adolescent years and when she met her husband, had children, and traveled the world. She spoke briefly about her two brothers and how they were such intelligent and wild boys, and I couldn’t help feeling as if they were there, chuckling and reminiscing alongside her. I even learned what it is like now for her living as a retired nurse right here in Red Bank.
Grace opened up and even told me about all the people who had passed away in her life. I was nervous about this part. Talking about loved ones who have passed away is always a risky thing to do, but Grace remained strong and even shared a great mantra of gratitude saying that she “enjoyed everyone who was living and had passed.” A lesson that I’ll hold on to forever is that there is always something in life to be grateful for. Throughout the whole interview, Grace remained positive and grateful for the many years of life she has been given.
Overall, interviewing Grace showed me that wisdom and love are the greatest things you can wear and give in older age. As I reflect, as Grace urges everyone to do, I’ve found that through the highs and lows and the everyday moments, including the opportunity to interview someone like her, I’ve truly had a beautiful and momentous life.
“The Interview Project” provided a unique experience for someone like me: a teen intern from Long Branch High School. Prior to “The Interview Project,” I had never written in an environment that catered to writers and encouraged them to express themselves. I had never been given the opportunity to actually set up an interview, interview someone, and then tell their story in writing.
I have always loved telling the unsung hero’s story. My dream is to become a novelist, writing and telling the stories of people who would otherwise be left unknown in the community. People like the working mother or the lonely man. “The Interview Project” afforded me the opportunity to live my dream. I was able to tell the story of someone who otherwise might have been left unknown. Someone like Grace Atkins, a loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend. And not only did her voice get to be heard, but in her stories, her family’s and friends’ voices also lived on. Together, they created one big story.
“The Interview Project” was truly life-changing for everyone involved. I hope people will go to the Red Bank Public Library and read these stories and realize that they may not know somebody as well as they thought. I hope they can connect with the stories―the small things in the pieces, the places, the people.
Lastly, I hope that anybody who reads the interview stories will understand that there are people just like them out there in the community and that there is always an opportunity for their story to be told.