Everyone Has a Story: Independent Living

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“As we sat near a sunny window, Esther told me about the summers she spent as a child on her grandparents’ farm. She had been brought to Philadelphia when she was six months old but spent every summer on the farm in Virginia where she was born. For a long time afterwords, I remembered the names of the animals she told me about.” This is how Katherine Baxter recalls her conversation with Esther, a conversation that resulted in the residents at Stapeley in Germantown realizing they all have a story worth telling.

After convincing Esther to share her story with other residents in the Potpourri, the community newsletter, Katherine went on to write down the stories of several other residents. These stories were published in the newsletter and then collected in a binder in the parlor of the community.

Katherine hopes to add to the fascinating collection in order to help her fellow residents get to know each other better. Katherine relates, “My goal is to record events in people’s lives that have special meaning for them but that, for one reason or another, they would not write themselves.”

Katherine’s fascination with sharing the stories of others makes perfect sense when you consider her background. She taught in elementary school for eight years but quickly became frustrated by the standardized nature of the textbooks they were using.

She left the classroom to devote herself full time to gathering and writing materials that would give children a better view of the diversity of their world. For the next twenty years, this work took her into numerous schools as a freelance curriculum consultant.

After retiring, Kathy became a storyteller for schoolchildren as well as adults. When she and her husband George, a retired college professor, decided to move to Stapeley in Germantown, a continuing care retirement community, she decided to help her fellow residents tell their stories.

Katherine and George chose the community in part because of its diverse population. Katherine explains, “We wanted to stay in the same neighborhood and live in a racially mixed community with people of modest income. We loved it here from the first day. The residents and staff are very friendly and give a lot of care to one another.”

Kathy also enjoys the additional time she has to spend with her husband George; she likes to stay close to home in order to take care of him, and she points out that “the caring is mutual. George is my main support for the writing I do.”

Sharing the stories of her fellow residents is rewarding for Kathy because it helps to foster a community atmosphere. As she relates, “The tellers are happy to learn that other people are interested in their stories. The readers are happy to learn things they never knew about the people they see almost every day. I love hearing comments like this one: ‘Wow! She’s so quiet. I never knew there was that much to her.'” It certainly seems like Kathy has proven her point to the residents of Stapeley-everyone does have a story.

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