MOORHEAD, Minn. — Stacey Potter graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead in 1997, but her greatest lesson learned is just coming to light.

Potter’s first published novel, “The Project,” was inspired by a class assignment she had as a sophomore in which she volunteered for the “adopt-a-grandparent” program. There she met Amy, a resident who taught her something she could never learn in classrooms — how to live.

“She had this spirit. I wanted to grow up and be like that,” Potter says from her home in the Minneapolis area.

She’s still working on being more like her, but she was able to live out a life as spirited as Amy’s in “The Project.”

The book centers on a young girl, Sabella, a sophomore at a liberal arts college in Minnesota.

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“Maybe a Concordia,” Potter says with a laugh.

Sabella’s own assignment to volunteer at a senior residence fills her with unease. She has no desire to adopt a grandparent as her own grandmother is cold and bitter. Her adoptive senior is just the opposite. May is filled with joy, independence and appreciation for life.

Sabella listens to May’s stories and learns from her, but also learns about herself. As her love for her boyfriend, Ryan, grows strained, her interest in Ted, a staffer at May’s senior living facility, grows stronger, though at first they seem to come from different worlds.

"The Project" is based on Stacey Potter's experience with the adopt-a-grandparent project at Eventide. Special to The Forum
"The Project" is based on Stacey Potter's experience with the adopt-a-grandparent project at Eventide. Special to The Forum

Potter says she mined her own experiences with the assignment for the story, but that it’s far from a memoir.

“It’s like the game, two truths and a lie,” she says. “There are stories and scenes from my real life but fictionalized to make it more interesting.”

While both she and Sabella were college cheerleaders, the character is from a monied Phoenix family, while Potter, whose maiden name is Kaufman, is from West Fargo, N.D.

Her real grandmother maybe wasn’t as bitter as Sabella’s, but still “stoic” and a counterpart to Amy.

Potter actually wrote the book in 2005, as part of National Novel Writing Month, but “kids and life” kept her from following up with it until recently.

“Now that I’m in my 40s, I think about writing and publishing and it’s time to do something about it,” she says.

As she was looking around for a publisher, she saw on social media that one of her friends from college, Anna Biehn, had co-founded a publishing house in Minneapolis, Hadleigh House Publishing. Potter sent her a copy, and they soon had a plan to release the book.

The novel is available in Kindle or paperback format on Amazon.

While the story unravels May’s secret love of a lifetime, Potter says “The Project” isn’t a romance or chick-lit.

“I call it more women’s fiction,” she says, but adds, “My husband looks at it more like a Hallmark movie.”

Stacey Potter, author of "The Project." Special to The Forum
Stacey Potter, author of "The Project." Special to The Forum

The real relationship in the book is between Sabella and May. Potter hopes the young character’s personal growth and appreciation of her senior friend resonates with readers.

“I just want people to have an enjoyable read,” she says. “People find it a heartwarming book. Many have said it’s a two-tissue read.”

As a sign of gratitude for her experiences with the “adopt-a-grandparent” program, she sent 15 copies of the book to the staff there and was delighted to receive a photo of employees smiling with the book in response.

She thanks the staff for what they do in working with residents, especially with the added stress of working during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let’s remember the older generation,” she says. “They’re the ones who made our history.”