By Michelle Colesanti

I’m ordinary; I’m not famous. I haven’t done anything important. There are many reasons to put pen to paper and write down the stories of your life. You may not think that your stories are interesting enough, but we all have tales to share with future generations.

Writing down my life stories was something that I wanted to do, but did not know how to begin or how to make my writing interesting enough so that one day my descendants would care to have a glimpse into my past.

The Bloomingdale Writer’s Connection (BWC) offers a 10-week Life Story Writing (LSW) class, free to the participant and funded by the Friends of Bloomingdale Regional Library. The class is based off of Dr. James Birren’s Guided Autobiography, a method used for helping people document their life stories.

Val Perry and Ann Shaklee were the Life Story Writing Coaches at my Saturday afternoon classes. Two facilitators, Iowana Whitman-Tims and Dave Bonham, also sat in to assist the coaches. All of the instructors and facilitators are volunteers.

Additional classes took place simultaneously on Tuesday and Fridays. Instructors for the Tuesday and Friday classes were Candi Martin and Spence Autry and the facilitators were Lou Martindale, Sarah Livingston-Schlicht, Kathie Bridges and Brenda Osborne.

The first LSW classes were held at Bloomingdale Library when it first opened in 2005. Perry was in the first class. The original instructor, Carol Byrd, became ill and the Friends needed volunteers to carry on the program. Perry and Lynn Gardner (now deceased) offered to continue the classes beginning in the summer of 2007. 

According to Perry, “I felt strongly that this class must continue. I had recently retired from my volunteer work with the Girl Scouts at their Tampa headquarters which meant I had the time available. I love to write and most of my previous writing had been life stories, although I did not know the term at the time.” 

Each class meets for about two and a half hours each week and is appropriate for all skill levels and all ages. Many people find the course to be therapeutic because the classes invite them to reflect on their lives and get new perspectives. 

A different theme is visited each week. Hands-on activities and group interaction help participants to dig deeper into buried memories.

Individuals can improve self-esteem and increase self-confidence through class interaction.

Katherine Van Dam recently completed the Life Story Writing Class.

“My experience with the Life Writing Class at the Bloomingdale Library was life changing since I was let go from a job at the end of November 2015. Definitely a game changer, which allowed me to make new friends with like-minded people, improved my writing as well as opened up a world of possibilities. Today, I view the world from a different perspective, thanks to the wonderful instructors (Anne and Val), their assistants (David and Iowana) and class members,” she said.

Upon graduation from the 10-week class, participants become members of the BWC, which came about when a group of writers from the original class decided to keep meeting.  With help from Anne Lawrence (Friends Board), Carol Byrd, Doreen Myers, Spence Autry, Lynn Gardner, Bette Lafferty and Perry, plans were made to find ways to continue to support the life writers who graduated from the classes. 

“We all felt 10 week classes were too short to reach our goal of writing our life stories,” said Perry.

I look forward to continuing with my Life Story Writing and would encourage anyone interested in preserving their past to consider the classes.

For more information on the Life Writing classes, contact Perry at or pick up a brochure in the foyer of the library.

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Michelle Colesanti
Michelle has been with the Osprey Observer for almost nine years, and her current position is Assignment Editor. She resides in Bloomingdale with her husband Phil, two sons, Philip and Matthew, and Tigger the cat.