Arielle Galinsky’s Treasury of Life Stories

Since high school, she has been helping senior citizens pass down their personal histories. Many other college students have joined the cause. 

Arielle Galinsky, A24, lost her grandfathers in childhood and always regretted not spending more time listening to their stories. So when she volunteered at a senior living community as a teenager, she had a mission to preserve stories for other families. She documented her conversations with the seniors in a book, Their Lives Reflected: A Treasury of Life Stories Captured Through the Legacy Project.

She spun that endeavor into an organization at Tufts. To date, The Legacy Project, Inc., has connected 60 college students with older adults to combat isolation and to build intergenerational connections through storytelling. Galinsky, who is also president of the Tufts Community Union and received a 2023 Presidential Award for Civic Life for her leadership, plans to pursue a career in health policy with an emphasis on aging and long-term care. She’ll begin studying for a master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in the fall, as a recipient of a Kennedy Fellowship.

What’s the idea behind your project?

During my junior year of high school, I worked as support staff at a senior living community in my hometown of Canton, Massachusetts. I couldn’t help but think of my grandfathers, whom I lost when I was 9 and 10. Throughout my adolescent years, I regretted not taking the time to listen to their stories, especially given that my grandfathers were such big role models in my life. 

At the senior community, I got glimpses of life histories from the people I connected with. I decided I would interview residents, and my hope was that they would present their stories to their families.

I ended up interviewing around 20 older adults. I decided that the best way to preserve these memories was in a book, which I wrote the end of my senior year and the whole summer before Tufts. I was intentional about making sure that each story was in the voice of the individual who told it. I wanted this living legacy to be authentic.

As the project was coming to an end, COVID hit. I would meet one-on-one with the individuals outside, at a distance, and we would read through the stories and make changes together. It took a bit of time, but ultimately, the book was published in the middle of my freshman year at Tufts, which was really exciting. 

How did The Legacy Project take root at Tufts?

When the book published, it started a conversation among my friends. Other students were also enthusiastic about this type of work, and with Wanda Schlumpf, A23, and Katherine Furey, A23, cofounded what became The Legacy Project. Students are paired with older adults in the Medford and Somerville area based on similar interests, and they get to share their life histories. Our Tufts chapter just published our first book, and we’re working on our second one to publish this spring. 

This past summer, we’ve gotten so many students from other schools who have shown interest in starting their own Legacy Project chapter. We’re pending 501C3 nonprofit status to build and grow to other universities. I just spoke about The Legacy Project at a conference of the American Society on Aging conference, where I’m also an intern. My goal is to create a nationwide network of intergenerational storytelling programs and to mobilize young students to participate in this work. 

Why does your project matter in today’s world?

While I want to provide an opportunity to share and celebrate life stories in the individuals’ communities and with their families, I think there’s a broader mission to combat social isolation and to build social connectedness between older adults and younger adults. 

At Tufts, so many volunteers have said that, besides their grandparents, this was their first interaction with an older adult. I’m passionate about creating a co-generational future, bringing older and younger generations together. In my mind, it starts with these intergenerational opportunities.

I’m eager to follow a career in aging and health care policy. More specifically, I hope to make an impact in aging policy. I believe that there’s not enough movement and reform around it. We need younger people to get in the advocacy circle. The way to get them excited about that is to provide them with firsthand experience, hearing real stories from older adults. It’s my dream to see a future where different generations are working together to solve some of our biggest issues.

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