The Third Thirty

A Community Story Project by Window Seat Media

The Third Thirty:
Honoring + Amplifying the Voices of Our Elders

"This class was an exploration of a different kind of listening and a different type of interview. Through the specific class assignment and Elaine's expert coaching, I was able to produce a compelling narrative from an interview with someone I admire deeply."​

-Kris Tucker, Fall 2018 Cohort

What Is The Third Thirty? 

The Third Thirty is community storytelling project facilitated by WSM in partnership with Senior Services for South Sound and the City of Olympia. The project explores the ways our history and identity shape how we experience our third thirty years of life. The stories are gathered by Thurston County residents – who are also in their "thirty thirty" – who enroll in a course taught by WSM Curator, Elaine Vradenburgh, through Senior Services Lifelong Learning Program. Project participants meet weekly over the course of 8-weeks to learn the art and practice of oral history, build their listening and interviewing skills, and consider the ethical issues of gathering and sharing other peoples’ stories. Each participant interviews a community member, transcribes the interview in full (using a transcription software called Otter), and then edits the transcript into a short, cohesive story (we refer to as a “narrative”). Upon completion, they are invited to share the narrative – with permission from the story sharer (we refer to as the “narrator”) - at a public reading and discussion hosted and facilitated by WSM. The stories are also shared through WSM's Community Stories Project Archive.

2020 Focus - Dynamics of Community Change

2020 will welcome the project's third cohort with a thematic focus: we will interview Olympia-area residents who were either living here or were drawn to the area in the early years of the founding of Evergreen State College, between 1967 and 1980. The community went through a significant transformation at that time –from a community rooted in its place as the State Capitol, a transportation hub, and its traditional waterfront industry, to an incubator for creativity and innovation that Olympia continues to celebrate as a central part of its identity today. We’re curious about this particular moment of our community’s history, not to create a history of Evergreen State College, but as an exploration of the dynamics of community change that were sparked by a variety of factors coming together at one time.

Our project will explore the following questions: What can people who lived through this time tell us about the dynamics of community change? What “ingredients” spark the emergence of a creative culture? What impact – both large and small, positive and negative – did this moment have on the individual and collective trajectories of the people who lived or were drawn here? How can these stories and insights add value to contemporary conversations to define our cultural identity and prepare for another big wave of migration to the area?

We'll share these stories through public readings, a podcast, and an exhibit. Select stories will also be used in City-hosted community conversations about Creative Place-Making, which are planned to culminate in an Olympia Arts, Cultures and Heritage (ArCH) Forum in fall 2020.

What Makes This Oral History Project Unique? 

Oral history offers a method to amplify local knowledge so that we can problem-solve in ways that are more inclusive and just. Contemporary practitioners are focused on gathering and sharing stories from people who have been left out, marginalized, or misunderstood in our largerAmerican narrative. The stories serve as an invaluable primary resource that feed into our institutional memory and expand our understanding of our shared history. WSM is part of this community of practice, and its founding staff, Elaine Vradenburgh, has an advanced degree in the field.

The peer-to-peer nature of the project offers seniors in our community with an opportunity to explore and validate shared experience while gaining insights into the ways in which their particular histories and identities shape their outlook and circumstances during this time of life. Our stories include community members from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds, as well as regional differences. As one participant reflected, "Olympia is a diverse community, and capturing the stories of our seniors helps illustrate this point in a very tangible way. I was amazed by each of the stories captured in our class. The experiences of the narrators were varied and unique. When we listen to them all at once, it gives us a sense of the tapestry of history that makes up the community of the South Sound. " We find that by focusing on a broad theme and carefully curating a public gathering to share the stories, we were able to surface and engage with challenging and often polarizing issues with safety and respect – for our oral historians, their narrators, and the public who came to listen to the stories.      

We are not only building a collection of stories that people can access online to understand the unique challenges and gifts of this generation, but also a community of practice that is grounded in deep listening, asking transformative questions, and honoring the knowledge that comes from our lived experience. Through the process of both gathering and sharing stories of their peers, seniors have the opportunity to deepen their connection to each other and honor the life and work of their peers.

How To Get Involved

Our next cohort will meet every Thursday, 10am-noon, beginning January 16 through March 5 at the Olympia Senior Center in downtown Olympia. Cost is $98 general/$92 members. To register, contact Senior Services at 360.586.6181. You do not need to be a senior to enroll.

Click here for the Lifelong Learning listing on Senior Services website.

For more information, please contact Elaine Vradenburgh at