School of Social Work undertakes oral history project

Brendalys Lebron

Students in the School of Social Work are collaborating with older Jewish adults in an oral history project to collect stories and learn from various members of the Austin Jewish community.

The project, completed through UT’s Gerontology Resources and the Aging Community in Education (GRACE) program, seeks to encourage field work. Social work graduate student Ellen Line said she and other participants conduct interviews with the older Jewish adults and their families in addition to helping them with day-to-day activities and simply spending time together. 

“I think that this oral history project really fits into this idea [of narrative therapy] — it focuses on the idea that everyone has a story, and so much of our lives is shaped by our stories,” Line said. 

Line said the endeavor gives the interviewees a chance to relive their past.

“It’s particularly relevant to older adults because they are getting closer to the end of their lives, so I feel it gives them the opportunity to reflect on the meaning that their life has had and share their wisdom,” Line said. “I think that’s very empowering.” 

Carlye Levine, the senior adult services director at Jewish Family Service, said in a press release that the project serves an important historical purpose.

“There are Holocaust survivors and World War II survivors here in Austin, and we think it’s important to hear and record what life has been like for them,” Levine said. “The idea of a person living a legacy was very important to me.”

Line said the oral history project is also culturally significant for locals.

“For the Jewish community of Austin, this project has potential to be a really great unifier and a really cool exploration of history, heritage and culture,” Line said.

GRACE program coordinator Sarah Swords said this program provides an opportunity for students to learn about an important area of their profession. 

“We are helping students learn to work with older adults and their families. It’s becoming a critical area of social work practice,” said Swords, clinical assistant professor at the School of Social Work. “[The GRACE program] teaches our students a variety of ways to help improve their clients’ lives … Part of the project is impacting [older adults], and lifting them up, because they tend to get forgotten and neglected.”