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Listen to a Life Story Contest


Message from Susan V. Bosak, Founder of the Legacy Project

Susan V. Bosak

Our world is in a tenuous place. That's why we're committed to the 7-Generation work we do. Stories are a big part of that work, and they give us strength.

Glimpses into history, hopes for the future, life advice shared, intergenerational connections strengthened, families and communities inspired, healed, changed. We've been doing the Listen to a Life Story Contest for over 20 years (time flies when you're having fun). Between all the students and older adults who have participated over the years, this contest has touched thousands of lives.

Once again, I enjoyed helping judge the entries in this year's contest. Our youngest entrants were 10 years old, our oldest 98. So many wonderful entries!

Teachers tell us this contest inspires some of the best writing they've seen from students. Students take this experience to heart, wanting to "make the story really good" to honor a grandparent or grandfriend. Listening to a story from someone's life is one of the most important gifts you can give. Older adults often share that this contest has been one of the few times they've shared deeply personal memories with a young grandchild or friend.

For the contest, a young person 8-18 years interviews an older adult 50 years or over about their life experiences – their dreams and goals, obstacles they overcame, pivotal moments, how they found hope – and submits a 300-word essay.

One Grand Prize Timeless Award winner receives $100 cash along with a keepsake art piece from Cedar Lake Studios, which offers a curated selection of finely-crafted, unique, inspired art and gifts created by Canadian artisans. Seven Legacy Award winners receive a keepsake mini chest. All winners also receive a framed award certificate and an autographed copy of Dream, an award-winning bestseller about hopes and dreams across a lifetime, through history, and into the future.

This year, we also gave out a special GTB EcoLegacy Award – a story that has an environmental theme. The winner receives a framed award certificate, $250 cash, and an autographed copy of Dream. This is part of of our local GTB (Greater Tkaronto Bioregion) School Community Network.

While not every entry can be an "official winner," everyone who participates in this contest is a winner. Each entry is important to us, and we respect the time – and effort – you put into making an entry happen. While I wish we had the resources to provide personal feedback on each entry, please know that we appreciate every single word you write and every part of yourself you share.

Now, we have some folks we'd like to thank – because without them this contest wouldn't be possible.

First, a big thank you to the teachers and parents who encourage and support young people in entering this contest. A grateful thank you to our long-time partner Generations United in Washington, DC, who helps get the word out to young and old, and organizations big and small, across the country. And an appreciative thank you to our sponsors who provide such great prizes – especially Cedar Lake Studios.

Finally, a big thank you to our long-time lead judge Jim Barry, a retired educator who cares about young people, language, and the hope we can find across generations. He carefully reads through submissions (with some help from his wife, Mary) – highlighting, starring, and underlining to evaluate every entry. Jim and Mary both feel the same way I do – filled up and lifted up by the stories we've had the privilege of reading.

The next Listen to a Life Story Contest starts on National Grandparents Day, Sunday, September 8, 2024. To enter, all you have to do is Read, Listen, Write! Check out all the details below. Sign up for our newsletter to get updates.

Read the 2023-2024 Listen to a Life Contest Winners – Grand Prize Timeless Award winner, the seven national runner-up Legacy Award winners, and the GTB EcoLegacy Award winner. The Legacy Award winners are presented in no particular order, other than an interesting sequence. Enjoy the stories!



To enter the Listen to a Life Contest, a young person 8-18 years old interviews an older person over 50 years (cannot be a parent; may be a grandparent, older friend, mentor, neighbor, assisted living or long-term care resident, etc.). The young person then writes a 300-word essay (maximum) based on the interview.

Get ready by doing a little reading…

Check the contest rules. You can also read Why Enter?

Read past winning stories to see how to craft an appropriate essay. The judging committee isn't looking for a laundry list of dates and life facts. Rather, they're looking for an evocative, creative story that captures the essence of a person's life, or a critical moment or experience.

Finally, young and old can read and discuss the award-winning book Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes, by Susan V. Bosak. A multilayered story told by a wise old star, it's about hopes and dreams across a lifetime, in the past and into the future. We even have intergenerational activities you can do. The book sets the stage for a great interview.



Do your interview by listening to a grandparent/grandfriend's life story. Learn about their hopes and goals through their life, how they achieved goals and overcame obstacles, or how dreams may have changed along the way. As you're listening, focus in on a significant life experience – it may be big or small, but it has to mean something to the person being interviewed. What life advice can the older person share? The judges are looking for an evocative, creative story that captures the essence of a person's life, or a critical moment or experience.

To help with your interview, we have Life Interview Tips and sample Life Interview Questions (you don't have to use the questions; they're designed to give you ideas and inspiration).

For students in the Greater Tkaronto Bioregion, the EcoLegacy Award will be given to a story that has environmental themes (e.g. older adult's experiences in nature, changes in the natural world they've seen, changes in thinking about how humans should steward the world, etc.).

WARNING: Entries MUST be based on an actual interview the young person completes in person, over the phone, or via the Internet with a living older adult. An entry cannot be based on a story the young person has been told by another person or has overheard. It must also be a true, real-life story, not creative fiction. Failure to follow these rules will result in immediate disqualification. Please read all the contest rules.



Now you're ready to write your story – 300 words maximum. Remember, the judging committee isn't looking for the person's whole life story (which is impossible to do in 300 words), but an essay that captures a theme, moment, or experience that's important in the older person's life.

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. One entry per team (i.e. young person and grandparent or grandfriend). Entries must be 300 words or less, be a true story about an older person's life, and will be judged by a committee based on the following criteria: 1/3 writing quality, including creative presentation; 1/3 content depth and evocativeness; 1/3 appropriateness to theme, particularly the ability to capture a timeless idea, insight, or theme (big or small) based on real-life experience.

You can submit your completed entry online or by mail/fax. Only receipt of online entries can be acknowledged.

Questions? Call the Legacy Project at 1-800-772-7765 or e-mail us.

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