Shari Cohen
Shari Cohen

Shari Cohen leads an engaging weekly creative writing group at Meer Apartments.

Shari Cohen of Bloomfield Township is this week’s Volunteer of the Week.

Since November 2021, Cohen has run a creative writing group at Jewish Senior Life’s Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield. In that time, it’s become a special, tight-knit group.

Cohen has engaged in volunteer work for a long time and was a volunteer for Detroit Public Schools since 2009. When they were no longer permitting volunteers because of COVID, Cohen began looking for another opportunity.

She suggested the creative writing group idea to Myriam Cohen, Meer’s activities director, who inquired if the residents had any interest. There was interest, indeed. The number of residents attending on a weekly basis varies, with 11 individuals being the most attending a meeting and about eight people being more typical. There’s a core group that has continued throughout, meeting weekly for an hour.

“We talk about writing and literature and, every week, I suggest a couple of topics they could write about,” Cohen said. “At the beginning, I talked about different kinds of writing — first person, third person, poetry, prose, etc.”

To Cohen’s delight, the participants have been willing to try new things.

“They’ve tried limericks, haikus and a few have written little short stories. A lot of them write about things that have happened in their childhood,” she said. “So, there’s quite a range. Everyone reads aloud what they’ve written, and almost all are willing to let their work be used in the newsletter.”

Cohen tries to have themes or suggested writing topics for the sessions each week. For Valentine’s Day, Cohen brought in some examples of how love is written about in literature and the Bible, suggesting participants write about different forms of love. For Rosh Hashanah, the group talked about repentance and forgiveness.

The group has also experimented with mini creativity exercises. Cohen has played different types of music and asked the group to write down any thoughts, words and emotions the music evoked. Cohen once brought in different kinds of herbs and spices, told the group to close their eyes and asked them to write about what the aromas inspired in them.

Myriam Cohen has used quite a bit of what the group has written in the monthly Meer newsletter, which she publishes.

“Shari is unbelievable,” Myriam said. “She goes above and beyond the duty of a volunteer; she’s extremely dedicated and puts her heart and soul into it. The residents have learned so much from her, she’s like a university professor. I would call her the volunteer of the year.”

Creative writers Marcy Tanzman, Audrey Demek, Yetta Pann, Anita Cywiak, Elizabeth Silver and Marlene Cassidy
Creative writers Marcy Tanzman, Audrey Demek, Yetta Pann, Anita Cywiak, Elizabeth Silver and Marlene Cassidy

Attendees often tell Cohen how much they enjoy the group and how much they appreciate what she does, with some of them bringing home baked goods and candy on occasion.

“What’s amazed me is their willingness to try new things, to open up to others, that they would sit there and read something they’ve written, sometimes very personal things,” Cohen said. “Some of the women knew each other before, some were friends, but the other thing that’s been wonderful is the group has helped generate new friendships or strengthened friendships. In some ways, it’s a bit of a support group.”

Several in the group are age 95. Cohen says the group is made up of intelligent people whose knowledge base is quite broad, who want to enjoy life and make new friendships — all the while showing that aging isn’t a barrier.

“They’re a wonderful group of ladies,” Cohen said. “I feel like I receive as much or more than I give. It’s a great opportunity to be helpful.”

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