“Creating Your Personal Legacy” Class

Remember the times of your life with scrap book
Written by Lu Stitt   
Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00
Village of Oak Creek resident Sunny Schlenger displays some of her creative scrapbooks at her home Friday, March 18. Schlenger teaches a class with Yavapai College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute teaching ways to preserve memorabilia through scrapbooking.


Tom Hood/Larson Newspapers

Preserving memories is something everyone wants to do — to keep those bits and pieces of a life well lived preserved for coming generations. If that is true, then why do most of us just toss the items in a box and stick it under the bed or in the back of the closet? “Oftentimes, people just don’t know how best to put those items together in some type of organization,” Sunny Schlenger said. “There are many ways to create your personal legacy.”

Schlenger teaches a class through Yavapai College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to help people create and preserve their life story using the memorabilia, photographs and writings they’ve kept piled together in a box. The first step, she said, is organizing.

“It doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can even start with one photograph and write a description about it and why it is important to you,” Schlenger said.

Schlenger has written two books on organization. After her parents died, she inherited a large number of pictures and collected items from several years of saving.

“Some [organizing skills] I knew and some I didn’t. I started scrapbooking about the same time and found I had to find things first, then organize them,” Schlenger said opening the book she made. “I decided I wouldn’t just pass along a box of unmarked ‘stuff’ to my kids.”

From that decided statement, Schlenger came up with an idea of how to put her life into a book, then the idea for a class began to surface to help others do the same.

“In my class you take one photograph and write about it, focusing on the positive. You ask questions of why and how this item is important. Include what memories and feelings are associated with the photograph and why. If we take it a step further, we can create pages from an era, like the 1960s or one year,” Schlenger said.

Other ideas for organization are by people, family or events. It can be very basic, like a photograph and information about the people pictured. This is done most often with very old photographs of an ancestor. Creating a personal legacy is not just about remembering the past. It’s paying attention to the present and passing the stories along.

“I want my kids to know what life was like for me on March 8, 2011. You can go from very general, like who is my family, to what I did yesterday,” Schlenger said.

She starts by asking the question, “If you were gone tomorrow, what would you want others to know about you and the life you lived?” She said it is like an African proverb she likes to quote: “When an elder dies, it is as if an entire library burned down.”

What Schlenger and the people in the class will do is keep it simple and specific to the individual. Every person’s life is different, even if the experiences are similar. Many people crossing the American plains and prairies in the 1800s to find a better life in the West bore some of the same hardships, but the journals they wrote were all different.

“History books were written from people’s writings, how they saw what was happening. We all have a history that is worth telling. It helps us to see our purpose in life — why we are here,” Schlenger said. “It also helps us revisit those most treasured moments of our lives.”

Creating a personal legacy can be like a treasure hunt to discover those bits and pieces, and why they have been kept as cherished possessions.

“It helps connect us to ourselves and to each other. You can approach this from any angle,” Schlenger said as she opened several books on a table to demonstrate the different approaches she has used with her own legacy project.

“It’s a lifelong process you can start at any age.”

She said virtually everyone who comes to the class walks in the door with a tub full of photographs and collected items, and wants to organize them somehow. “Where should I put this item?” is a big question for most people, Schlenger said.

“I want to help get people where they are and bring them into the perspective of their life as a story. I encourage people to write about their lives and having an item to write about helps,” she said. “I think this is part of my mission, to help people record their own lives.”

The class is also designed to help people understand what is important in their life, what is worth keeping, and how, with a deep breath, to blow the rest away.

“People need to record their lives, and not be just a name on a family tree or three paragraphs in a newspaper obituary. It’s a way to reclaim your life and have something to pass along,” Schlenger said.

Schlenger is the author of “How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself” and “Organizing for the Spirit.” She received a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s in counseling from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Schlenger has lived in the Village of Oak Creek since 2007.

Creating Your Personal Legacy will be taught for five weeks beginning Friday, April 8, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Room 39 of Yavapai College Sedona Campus, 4215 Arts Village Drive in West Sedona. For more information, call 649-4266.

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