Members of the Penn Veterans’ Life Stories club will travel to the Philadelphia VA Medical Center to conduct face-to-face interviews and transcribe self-reported personal stories of veterans starting this week.
The club, founded last semester by College sophomore Peter Ma, aims “to capture the voice and spirit of our country's Veterans" by publishing stories based on the personal accounts of local veterans, according to its mission statement.
“I’ve been volunteering at the VA for a couple summers now, and [the veterans] have some really cool stories that I feel that people should have a chance to hear about,” Ma said. “This program is a great way to share their stories.”
The group will publish veterans' life stories in three ways — by giving a written copy to each veteran, sharing the accounts with the veterans' doctors and nurses, and publishing the stories within the Penn community through a website and print journal.
Ma is joined on the club board by College sophomore Alida DiGiovanni, Wharton sophomore Samuel Fuchs, and Wharton sophomore Caitlin Leung. He said the group currently has about 30 members and will start visiting the hospital this week after finishing paperwork and preparation last semester.
“We want to keep the veteran’s voice in the story,” Ma said. “We want to get their stories out there.”
Board members emphasized the importance of sharing veterans' stories with their healthcare providers to inform care and improve understanding between doctors and patients.
“I really liked what the club stood for, spreading awareness and improving doctor-patient relationships,” Leung said.
To disseminate the stories within the Penn community, the club plans to set up a website and establish a print journal this semester.
“Penn is very integrated into a community that exists beyond the campus,” DiGiovanni said. “[But] there are a lot of things we could do better to be more connected to the community beyond Penn.”
Ma said he drew inspiration for the club from the "My Life, My Story" project, a program developed at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. Since the project's launch in March 2013, the hospital has interviewed 1,500 veterans and written 1,000-word narratives for each one, distributing the written accounts to veterans' health care providers.
“They gave up so much of their own life and their own time for us, defending us,” Ma said. “Giving them our time is the least we can do.”