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Autobiography class aims to help seniors forge connections through stories

Two women may find out they both lived on farms while growing up. Two men may connect over having served in the same war.

Such bonds are possible through a guided autobiography class for seniors being introduced at Huntington Beach's Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center beginning Wednesday.

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The class, scheduled for four Wednesdays ending July 22, is open to Huntington Beach residents 55 or older. It aims to help people share their stories and build friendships, said Randy Pesqueira, executive director of senior services for the city.

"Autobiography works on memory and is good for memory," he said. "It stimulates just that kind of thinking about history and place, and it keeps the mind working. A lot of times, when people say they don't remember something, once they start writing little bits of it down, things start to come back."

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Instructor Tricia Homrighausen, who works for Independence at Home, a community service group, has been teaching guided autobiography classes throughout Orange County for two years.

When she started, she wrote down seniors' stories for them and soon discovered how affecting the process could be, both for the seniors and the people they share their stories with.

"I've had one lady who had come from Ireland when she was 18 to be a nanny for eight children," Homrighausen said. "Part of the beauty of guided autobiography, and why I like it, is that not only do people write about a certain time in their lives, but then when people come together, they share their stories. That's when the magic happens."

Each session of the program, which costs $6 for participants, covers a different topic, such as family and money. Every week, participants will write or type a two-page autobiographical story, about 800 to 1,000 words.

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The workshops will be followed by a gathering July 24 when writers can share their stories with their families.

"Many times, the friends and family have no idea who this person is," Pesqueira said. "They have no idea that Grandma wore a polka dot bikini or danced in the sand. The thing about autobiographies is that they are honest about what's going on with that person. It breaks the honesty down and just lets the stories come out. Sometimes they're very powerful. You never know what to expect when you open that door, because there can be really painful memories. You have to be prepared to deal with that."

Homrighausen said classes like this can help a senior citizen find purpose again.

She said one of her autobiography students attends her classes all over the county and that two of her groups have continued meeting after the program was completed.

"Especially sometimes in assisted living where people are lonely and isolated, they'll have lived with somebody for many years but they've never connected," Homrighausen said. "This tends to create friendship and connection."

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IF YOU GO

What: Guided autobiography class for senior citizens

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Where: Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center, 1706 Orange Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays from July 1 to 22

Cost: $6 administration fee for seniors 55 and older

Information: Registration coordinator Kristin Martinez at (714) 374-1710

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