Dialing up community: Senior Center now taking Collect Calls

Everyone has a story to tell. Now, there’s one special place on Bainbridge Island to share those tales.

Sue Barrington

Everyone has a story to tell.

Now, there’s one special place on Bainbridge Island to share those tales.

Starting May 1, anyone can stop by the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center to record a personal story in a handcrafted Collect Call Phone Booth. The StoryShare project is a way to gather and share memories of those who reside on Bainbridge Island.

“It collects the calls that you place inside of it,” said Sue Barrington, Waterfront Park Community Center program manager. “We will have a repository for all sorts of Bainbridge Island stories — whether those took place 50 years ago or last week.”

Standing over 7-feet tall and made of red oak, the old-school phone booth sits in the center’s lobby waiting for someone to open its door and record a memory on a circa 1900s vintage phone. Inside the mouthpiece is a voice-activated recording device that will capture any spoken words.

“I hope that people will feel like when they’re in this booth, they feel really safe and speak their truth,” said Barrington, who spearheaded the project. “I expect it to be pretty moving stuff along the way.”

Phone booth visitors can choose to remain anonymous.

The five-year project is a way to record history as experienced by the islanders, along with personal stories, Barrington said.

Tapes will reviewed weekly, and the most interesting ones will be archived at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and possibly included in a Bainbridge Community Broadcast. Those who stop in are asked to record their name and phone number for follow-up purposes.

“I think the nature of an island, being that it is so self-contained in a lot of ways, can really create a unique sense of community,” Barrington said. “There’s a real pride on Bainbridge Island about its history and being from here.”

Each week, those who step into the phone booth will have a topic to base their story on. The topic for May 1 through next week will be “first kiss” memories. Topics are suggested as guidelines, but it is not mandatory to talk about the topic idea.

Upon stepping into the booth, participants may sit on a stool to record a three- to five-minute story. The audio will be immediately saved and the next person can step inside to record their memory.

The project was nine months in the making and required the assistance of multiple agencies, Barrington said. The senior center, Bainbridge Community Broadcast, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District all had a hand in the project.

“I like that the project is involving the community in a new way and that the seniors have a vital role in the end product. Also, that the project is giving value to people’s memories and stories, giving a sense that what each person has seen and done has relevance to the community,” said John DeMeyer, newly retired recreation services director for the Bainbridge park district.

“I think people understand that each community is unique. The experiences that collectively shape the community memory are time-sensitive,” he said. “Some will be lost forever unless recorded or captured by this process.”

DeMeyer added that he hopes it will “develop a stronger sense of community.”

Community is part of the reason BARN took on the project. The nonprofit asked for proposals for a community service project its woodworkers could take part in.

When the phone booth idea came up, Dave Whitacre and other woodworkers jumped at the chance.

“I gotta say I’ve never made a phone booth before. This is a new one,” said Whitacre, a BARN member and community project coordinator. “I’ve never heard of a story booth concept before.”

Over a period of five weeks, members pieced together the phone booth using an image that Barrington had given them for inspiration.

Pieced together almost entirely by screws, it took four hours for BARN members to set up the booth in its new home.

“The satisfying thing to me is that it still fit together,” Whitacre said.

“Everything went together just like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “It was good to see it standing there.”

Whitacre isn’t finished with the project, however.

“I would like to hear some of the stories,” he said.

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