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Library hosting 'sisterhood' symposium

Park Rapids Librarian Jodi Schultz is launching a series of "casual conversations" to engage diverse community members.

She calls it "Chatting in Real Time."

"The idea is to bring together a group of people that might not otherwise be assembled together, include an audience, and facilitate conversation in order to expand the boundaries of the community," explained Schultz. "I picture them being relaxed and entertaining — like a grown-up playdate. We don't have to talk about serious things — we just have to talk."

The first symposium, "The Sisterhood of Seniors," will take place Sunday, Jan. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the Park Rapids Area Library. The public is invited to join the "living history lesson punctuated with wisdom and humor."

"I feel like gathering together in a common space and spending time getting to know each other is a good step in breaking down barriers and forming connections," Schultz said.

For this first event, a mixed panel of high school seniors and senior citizens have been invited to chat. Four young women will ask four older women prepared questions, "prompting stories of growing up in different times and places."

Sample questions might be "Were you responsible for doing any household chores?," "Did you play sports in high school?," "What is one of the biggest changes you've seen in your lifetime?" or "If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?"

Schultz anticipates the symposium will last about an hour.

"As the dialogue unfolds, there will be shared laughter and insights," she predicts. "I suspect the young women, months away from high school graduation, will take comfort and find inspiration in the stories of the older women who have navigated many such milestones in their lives. The older women, I think, through interacting with the teenagers, will feel a renewed sense of energy and confidence in the future. I can't wait to introduce my older friends to my younger friends, and vice versa."

The Park Rapids Area High School panelists will be Myah Schultz, Katelynn Warmbold, Madison Malzahn and Trinah Szafranski. The senior citizen panelists are Dolores Olson, Anna Johnson, Trudy Overmyer, Josi Ashmore and Pat Beaumont.

Schultz's inspiration for "Chatting in Real Time" was triggered a couple years ago, after the library hosted "Girl Rising" screenings.

"It prompted some discussion at the Friends of the Library meeting. The women were sharing their stories about their educations, and work and life experiences. I realized I was in the company of trailblazers, and revolutionaries," she recalled. "One of them had found a way around the system to acquire college classes that weren't yet open to women. They talked about when women weren't allowed to keep teaching once they had children. These smart, spunky women shared and laughed together. I was inspired, entertained and empowered. I could have listened to them all day. I thought about how much the teenagers I know would enjoy hearing these stories, and how empowering it would be for both the older and younger generations. Since then I've had the idea tucked in the back of my brain, and have wanted to find a way to facilitate this type of interaction. I'm excited to say that it's finally going to happen."

Future panel discussions will involve different focus groups and topics. Schultz welcomes input for future symposiums. Ideally, the library will host three of four sessions in a year.

"I'd like to include people of different ages, sexes, backgrounds and cultures," she said. "For each discussion, the interviewers will be seated at the table mixed among the interviewees as a way of breaking down barriers — both the visible and invisible."

Schultz hopes that this and future "Chatting in Real Time" events "will provide opportunities within our community to connect with others, to view the world through a different lens and to expand our understanding of history and society in relation to other people's experiences. I believe each of us is simultaneously a learner and a teacher, and by spending time talking with others we are both contributing to society and benefitting as individuals."

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