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JCFS Digital Storytelling Project Has Many Benefits for the Older Adult- JCFS Hopes To Expand It Beyond Seniors

by Rhonda Spivak, November, 2022



On  November 15th  Jewish Child and Family Service  hosted  an event at the Berney Theatre entitled “Our Digital Storytelling Journey,”  highlighting  an Older Adult Services project run throughout 2021 – 2022.  Approximately 60 people were in attendance, including seniors, other community professionals, individuals interested in the topic and the grade 9 students of the Gray Academy of Jewish Education.



As Cheryl Hirsh Katz, Manager of Adult Services at JCFS explained to the Winnipeg Jewish Review, " Digital Storytelling encapsulates a story using narration and digital visual items such as photos and short video clips.  The purpose of a digital story is to create a keepsake that captures something of relevance to the creator.  This might be a personal experience, or a description of something meaningful in their life. The result is a video which is typically 3-5 minutes in length which is theirs to keep and share with others. Digital Storytelling is, essentially, a powerful vehicle for individuals to make and share lasting legacies."


Regarding  the number of older adults who have created digital stories so far  through the JCFS project, Hirsh-Katz noted that " We completed 5 seniors’ digital stories in this pilot project and have a building interest from others to participate.  One participant’s story was a tribute to her father and his importance in her life.  Another spoke of her love of sewing and the impact this had for her. The seniors found this to be a very satisfying and enriching experience and one they would highly recommend to others."


Hirsh-Katz elaborated on why JCFS decided to embark on this project, by stating " We embarked on digital storytelling as we are always looking for innovative and creative ways to connect with our older adult clients.  Studies at Simon Fraser University and the Centre for Digital Storytelling in Berkley California have demonstrated the positive study results including encouraging and supporting communication and socialization, the maintenance and development of cognitive skills, communication, media and technology skills, as well as providing social-emotional benefits to older adults.  It is an effective tool that can be used in working with seniors."


The JCFS team developed and facilitated the program while working with the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Occupational Therapy, and also created a step-by-step Guide to Digital Storytelling to share with others. As Hirsh-Katz emphasized, "Teresa Allison, an occupational therapist at the University of Manitoba presented a research paper on digital storytelling and upon learning about this, we connected with her prior to embarking on this project.  We felt she could provide some insight and guidance with our project.  She in turn was looking for participants for a research study she was planning on digital storytelling.  This developed into a partnership where we worked collaboratively on this project of creating digital stories and participating in her research.  Having data in support of the project is important to guide our current and future work in this area.


"We also felt we wanted to share the knowledge we gathered, to make digital storytelling more accessible to others, whether it be individuals, organizations or communities who have an interest in doing digital stories.  To this end, we developed a step-by-step manual and guide on digital storytelling and how to go about completing a digital story."



This participant feedback was very positive and shows the potential benefits to the older adult. For example, one participant felt that through digital storytelling they could pass down family history and ethics, another felt it served as a means to validate/honour a loved one, while another felt it could be used as a teachable moment.


The JCFS Digital Storytelling Project received funding from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. As Hirsh Katz relayed, " 

Like many other Canadian agencies, the one-time funding we received gave us the opportunity to launch this innovative pilot project. Funds were utilized to purchase the necessary equipment and programs needed to get started on the project, hire a facilitator to implement it, publish our digital storytelling manual and guide to distribute widely, and hopefully have our project replicated elsewhere, and hold our project celebration event which took place on November 15th."


Hirsh Katz also explained that "Now that we have completed this initial pilot, we hope to expand the use of digital stories among our client base, beyond seniors.  It could have benefits for individuals of any age, women in particular, to help empower them by giving them a voice and a way to express themselves.  We have applied for further funding to move forward with this expansion and, particularly a facilitator to create many more stories that would become part of our existing Senior Technology Program at JCFS."


If anyone is interested in learning more about digital storytelling or our Senior Technology Program, you can contact Cheryl at [email protected] or 204-744-7430.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.