The popular Rockbridge Community Memoir Project through VMI will look a little different this year as the popular in-person workshop goes virtual.

The collaboration between VMI cadets and English faculty, Lylburn Downing Middle School students, and residents of Kendal at Lexington gives participants the tools to craft stories of their life experience in this series of workshops. This will be the third year for the program which was started in 2018 as a service-learning project designed to represent the perspectives of three generations currently living in the area.

John South, a Kendal resident, is excited to be a part of the workshop for his third time.

It’s Fun and a Service To The Community

“There are three things I like about this project. One is interfacing with the cadets. They are good kids, it’s refreshing and a lot of fun. Second, is learning how to present topics that will capture the attention of my grandchildren and third, it’s a service to the community,” he said.

Writers meet with a VMI cadet ‘pen pal’ in a series of online, guided workshops to help them develop, write, and publish their personal stories.

“One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it,” John added. “The cadets research the memoir writing techniques then talk about them with us.”

Participants find the workshops give them the right amount of motivation to write about topics that may otherwise go forgotten. South has drawn on his childhood experiences of living in the Panama Canal Zone and teen years living in Brazil for subject matter in his writing. “Those were things I would not have written about had I not taken this class,” he added.

Staying Connected Virtually

While previous workshops have been held in-person, this session will be held on Zoom. South is coordinating connection and technology assistance for participants from Kendal.

Whether one participates in a formal workshop or just embarks on a writing project of their own, South encourages others to just get started.

“A lot of what we write in the workshop would probably only get us a “C” in English, but it’s just a matter of writing down things that our children or grandchildren may find interesting. Even if nobody reads it, you’ll have fun interacting with others who are doing the same thing,” he said.

He mentioned other perks of a project such as this were talking with children or siblings and reminiscing about past experiences. Old photographs are also great fodder for writing ideas. With just a bit of motivation or encouragement, writing down personal stories is rewarding for both writer and reader.

Celebrate Your Story Initiative

Last fall, several events were planned to inspire Kendal residents and the greater Lexington/Rockbridge community to embrace the power of history, story, and connection. Projects such as Memoir Writing are just one way many Kendal residents are staying busy even as in-person activities have been curtailed. South says a lot of residents have been doing online genealogy research and watching other presentations on discovering more about their heritage as well as the surrounding area’s landmarks and history.

The memoir writing program began September 17 and culminates with a public reading late October. While past readings were held at Kendal, it is estimated that this year’s event will also be held online.