A ReServist and members of her memoir writing class held at the Health Outreach Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital recently celebrated the publishing of their book, “Turning Points And How They Changed Us.”
The book features 14 memoirs, which were the results of a writing class taught by ReServist, Patricia “Pat” Schiff Estess. For nearly four years, Pat has been teaching memoir writing to this group, which had initially formed as a class for a seven-week course.
“You can’t write a memoir in seven weeks,” Pat said and added that the Center saw how valuable the class was to the fledgling writers, who for the most part, consist of New Yorkers in their 70’s and 80’s from all over New York City and Westchester.
Their backgrounds were wide-ranging: a former police officer, audiologist, music schoolteacher, a Broadway actor who was among the opening cast of the 1968 Great White Hope with James Earl Jones, and the first African American woman to serve as Deputy Chief of the New York City Transit Police Department.
Pat now teaches two classes at the Center to 22 students, which meet on Thursday mornings (“Thursday Morning Memoir Writers” is listed as the book’s author). Two other ReServists had been engaged to teach writing and art.
The classes are offered by the Health Outreach Center, a program led by Sandy Regenbogen-Weiss, LCSW of the New York Presbyterian Hosptial. The Center, which provides health information and cultural activities to seniors 60 years and older, started the classes to provide seniors a safe and caring environment in which to explore and share memories, express their creativity and connect to others.
With wide smiles, each of the writers spoke at the publishing party expressing gratitude to Pat and to the Center saying how their writing had improved and for many of them, the writing had become a means of catharsis for them.
“You have created an environment for us to express what we thought was inexpressible,” said contributing writer Marian Lewis. “I needed an arena to give me permission to say things that were on my mind. Pat has been so warm and allowing for us to really be supportive of each other.”
Some of the writers said they were finally able to acknowledge painful memories and that Pat created an atmosphere of trust. All said they had bonded with each other and created an extended community. “This class allowed me to open memories that I had blocked,” said one writer. “The classmates have formed a community for me. How we really are alike has been the joy of the class,” said another.
Fred Weinberg, one of two males attending the class is also a ReServist currently serving at the Hospital for Special Surgery where he’s been since 2007. “The class has become a significant part of my life. She [Pat] is a professional and knows how to bring out the best in us,” said Fred. “I’m in love with you all.”
Pat has written and published three books and was a contributing editor for magazines such as Reader’s Digest New Choices, Entrepreneur, Parade and Parents. She joined ReServe in 2007 and completed two other assignments before being placed as a writing instructor. She also submitted a personal essay for a writing contest ReServe held in May to commemorate Older Americans Month. You can read her essay here.
“I had great qualms about teaching writing to seniors. I thought that you were going to be cantankerous and technically challenged, but I was wrong,” Pat said to the group. “You guys are curious, fascinating and open to new things. I’ve learned so much from you.”
Click here to purchase the collection of memoirs, “Turning Points And How They Changed Us.”