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Photography project helps PRHS students forge an unexpected bond with local seniors

Senior Ben Greenberg of Thornton kneels beside the portrait he took of Ashland resident Ron Shaw, all part of a project that brought Plymouth High School art students and members of the Plymouth Regional Senior Center together this year. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 17, 2017
PLYMOUTH — Plymouth Regional High School's Visual Arts instructor, Lynn Sanborn, challenged 28 members of her Advanced Photography and Advanced Art classes to take part in a special project this year, but it wasn't any typical class assignment. Her students had what she termed the "super fun opportunity" to meet people from the Plymouth Regional Senior Center who not only posed for photographs, but shared with them a bit of their fascinating history.

Kazuko Okubo, an artist and author who was born in Japan, was one of the more than 40 subjects from the senior center who took part in the project and she was thrilled with the results.

"This was all possible because of the high school kids," Okubo said as she enjoyed a gallery display of the photographs at PRHS last Wednesday. "It was a great chance to meet people at the center and to mingle the old and young. They did a great, great job."

Linda and Michael Barlick of Plymouth agreed. Linda said she thought it was a valuable means of communication between the high school and the senior center and commended the students for all the hard work they put into both the interviews and photography sessions.

"I hope they do this every year because not everyone at the senior center who wanted to participate this time was able to," she said.

The portraits taken by the students were each accompanied by a brief biography of their subjects and the students acknowledged that they learned a lot in the process.

"It was interesting to get to know them. They had so much to tell us and I think it's so important for us to all understand who they are and that they're a part of our community we don't often see," said high school senior Skye Decato of Plymouth.

One person they had never met until the project began was 98-year-old Muriel McNamara who served in World War II as a Navy nurse. McNamara said she thought the concept of high school students working with older residents of the community was "fantastic.

From mother and daughter Alice and Linda, students heard adventures of ice fishing, sledding, skiing and other fun they shared during earlier days in Plymouth. Interviews with Bonnie Mardin revealed a sparkling personality they all enjoyed, and through Dorchester native Ray Conkey they learned of his service to the town and his talent for jewelry making. He even wore some of his own creations for his portrait.

"This was a very nice project," said student Gwen Hoyt of Holderness. "I really liked listening to their stories and learning about their hobbies and their history. It was really nice to meet them all."

One senior citizen even dished out some sage advice to the high school girls about relationships, words that were gratefully taken under advisement by them all.

For high school senior Ben Greenberg of Thornton, the project struck a special chord in his heart. Greenberg said he grew up with his own grandmother living in his house and she became somewhat of a third parent to him. Spending time with other senior citizens, he discovered, gave him an "even deeper value" for how they have lived and the wisdom they have accumulated through their life experiences.

"I'm really grateful to have had the chance to hear them open up and share their stories with us," he said.

One of his subjects for the project was veteran Ron Shaw of Ashland. Greenberg said he was impressed by how full Shaw's life has been and how energetic he still is today.

"When he laughed it just brightened up the whole room. He's a really great guy," Greenberg said.

To celebrate the completion of the project, Sanborn and her students invited all of the subjects, along with their family and friends, to the high school last week where the portraits and their biographies were all on display. While visiting the school, those who wished took brief tours of the building then everyone gathered in the Bobcat Café for a special luncheon.

"A lot of these seniors have never even been inside the school so we thought they might like to see what it's like here today," said Sanborn.

As a thank you for their participation, each of them were also presented with matted copies of their portraits to share with their loved ones.

Professional photographer Maundy Mitchell served as an advisor for the project and said she was greatly impressed by all the talent she saw.

"What the students came up with was just gorgeous," Mitchell said. "Their portraits all showed that they made a real connection with the people they photographed. They didn't just take their photos, they created priceless heirlooms."

The portraits will now be presented to the Plymouth Regional Senior Center where they will be kept on display for all to enjoy.

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