Senior Neighbors program director helps people write their life stories

Senior Neighbors program director helps people write their life stories

December 6th, 2011 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Angela Beairsto is program developer for Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


• Age: 50.

• Education: Graduate of Notre Dame High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

• Occupation: Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors program director.

• Family: Husband Kevin Beairsto; sons Joe, 24; Patrick, 23; and Christian, 21; daughter Madeline, 19.

• Pets: "We're empty-nesters all the way around. When our daughter left for college, she took the dog with her."

• Favorite books: "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee; "Gift from the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindbergh; "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver," and anything by Pat Conroy.

• Favorite movies: "It's a Wonderful Life" (always watch it on Christmas Eve while wrapping presents), "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Home Alone."

• Favorite entertainers: Bare Naked Ladies, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, James Taylor, Sugarland and Adele

Turning 50 this year has had a positive impact on Angela Beairsto.

After college, she taught first grade for several years, married and raised four children. Now that they're grown, she said, she's ready to give back.

"For a long time, I've wanted to get into a nonprofit where I can use my talent and skills," Beairsto said. "Turning 50 had an impact. I had a new freedom, and I wanted to do something to help others."

Beairsto landed at Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors, a perfect match, she said. She works as program director at the center on 10th Street in downtown Chattanooga.

Among her responsibilities is a program she initiated, teaching senior citizens the skills they need to pen their own memoirs.

Q: Teaching people to write takes great communication skills. Is this something that comes naturally to you?

A: No. In fact, when I was in high school, I didn't want to be noticed. I was shy. But when I went to college, I grew up. It gave me the opportunity to re-create myself. I became a different person. I became confident. I don't mind being in front of a crowd.

Q: Why did you chose to work at a nonprofit?

A: It happened because of my kids. I was a stay-at-home mom, which allowed me to be involved in everything they were involved in. I was the Parent Teachers Organization president for years. I organized fundraising events, including a 5K race. And one of my biggest accomplishments was finishing a 26.2-mile marathon at 37 years old. I was never an athlete, so it gave me a newfound confidence. In fact, I ran four more marathons. The first race was particularly a huge challenge and important to me because it was a fundraising event. It made me want to do more to help people in the community.

Q: What led you to Alexian?

A: It happened quite by accident. I had joined a writers group in Chattanooga and started writing a column for the Signal Mountain Post and Mountain Life magazine. I also wrote feature stories and took photographs for Chattanooga Parent magazine, and, on a personal level, I've always kept a journal. I contracted with the local library to teach writing classes all across the city to senior citizens. I wanted seniors to realize that each one had a story to tell. And they did. One of my "students," for example, had a beer with President Lyndon Johnson. People don't realize how important it is for them to write about their experiences, to look back and reflect. It's a legacy for them to pass to their family. It's their family history.

Q: Are you getting positive feedback from senior citizens?

A: Yes. The beginning course is about memoir writing. It's an ongoing class. We (she and Becky McMahon, senior services coordinator for the Chattanooga Public Library) created a curriculum for a second-level writing course, and from that the participants formed a writers club called River City Writers Club. Members of the club share their life stories, they write stories, and they have guest speakers. It means so much to me that they've taken such an interest in writing.

Q: Why do you think it's important for seniors to either write their own memoirs or have someone else write it for them?

A: What better legacy [is there] to leave a family than the story of you? Society has changed so much in the last few decades. No longer are families living near one another, and, even if we do, we're so busy. To be able to sit down and tell those stories, either by writing it down or letting someone else do it, is important for generations to come. It takes an effort, but our families deserve it. I have my great-grandmother's diary, and it means everything to me, and I'm very lucky to still have my 92-year-old grandmother. I want to learn everything about her that I can.

Q: What is something your friends would be surprised to learn about you?

A: I raised over $10,000 for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team-in-Training program by running five consecutive Flying Pig marathons in Ohio and Tennessee, beginning when I was 37 years old. I was labeled "unathletic" all the way through high school. I enjoy telling people, "If I can do it, anybody can do it. That is, with a little bit of training and a whole lot of willpower."

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: We have a Beairsto family motto: "Vivendo il Sogno (Living the Dream)." It is Italian because Italy is our "happy place." When my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago, I had a silver bucket engraved with our motto, and we spent the afternoon making a "bucket list" of all the things we wanted to acquire, all of the places we wanted to see and all of the things we wanted to accomplish. We wrote each one on an individual card and dropped in the bucket. We actually just removed one when we bought a used boat this year and named it "Life's Too Short."

We'll just keep working at that bucket list and see what happens and go with the flow. We hope to always be as near to our children as possible, and in 10 years, well, I could be a grandmother. I hope to not only be helping people tell their stories but also hope to practice what I preach and share my life's stories and lessons with my family and leave them a true gift of life, love and legacy.