Esther Kang

Mature Lit: Everyone has a story to tell Gwen Binegar

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Gwen Binegar, who leads both the bimonthly writing workshop and poetry reading circle for Older Adults in Manhattan Beach, displays her published works. PHOTO BY ESTHER KANG

Gwen Binegar, 88, has lived on both coasts and traveled to all seven continents. But one common theme threads her experiences together: helping others.

Her profession as a social worker and sociologist has taken her from the Bryn Mawr College Child Study Institute to the San Diego Regional Center for Developmentally Disabled, where she was the chief of case management for 17 years before retiring in 1991.

In those days, Binegar didn’t consider herself a writer, but she had a way with words. In 1995, she co-authored a report calling for paperwork reduction in the California Regional Center system. The report led to policy changes that eliminated outdated and redundant paperwork.

Wherever she was, Binegar immersed herself in volunteer work. When she was living in Seattle, she volunteered at a school for emotionally disturbed girls as well as the mental health ward of Harbor View Hospital.

Since settling in Manhattan Beach almost a dozen years ago, she has found a way to marry her love of writing and giving back to the community.

“I started from attending these programs to running these programs,” she said.

“Everyone Has a Story to Tell,” a bimonthly writing workshop held at the Joslyn Community Center, is a popular program in the Older Adults Calendar. Co-led by Binegar and Nell Gillis, a fellow writer and former professor of creative writing at Purdue University, the meetings bring about 15 writers together. She also leads the Poetry Reading Circle every other Tuesday.

“Everyone has a different motivation [for coming out],” Binegar noted.

Like a proud friend, she talks about how one writer, Beverly, is well-published, yet still faithfully attends every meeting. She also spoke of Annette, another regular, whose current writing project – inspired by her family — portrays a female slave’s point of view during the Civil War.

“We’re so lucky to have these people,” Binegar said.

Binegar has published two books: The Crocodile Who Came to Tea, a children’s book inspired by her granddaughter’s recurring nightmares about a crocodile; and Living Together, a self-help book on intergenerational living based on her experiences living with her adult son Glen. She is also a member of the Literary Society of the Southwest Manuscripters.

In addition to leading the writing group and poetry circle, Binegar serves on the Manhattan Beach senior advisory committee and the Community Emergency Response Team. She keeps fit by walking twice a week with a group of fellow seniors living in Manhattan Villas.

“I didn’t change my mode of operation because I retired. I still stay active,” Binegar said. “It’s more fun and it’s things I like to do and things I fell into. In fact, my entire life is things that I kind of fell into.”

“Not only that, but it keeps me healthy,” Binegar added. “Gee, I’m 88 but I think I’m 60.”

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