Unique alzheimer's project connecting thousands through handprints

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PHOENIX -- It's a project that will connect thousands of strangers through their handprints. One man is on a grassroots mission to preserve memories by asking people to look at the space between their

Plastered with faded pictures and duct tape, it's hard to believe this car has taken Matthew Ross Smith from Philadelphia to Phoenix.

"My car is turning into this ridiculous spectacle," Smith explained.

Every face represents someone who lent a hand to Smith so he could cross the country on an incredible journey.

Smith recently visited with seniors at The Beatitudes Campus and told the group, "So I want to start today doing something that maybe doesn't happen a lot in your day to day life, I want to tell you a story."

Stories are the heart of Smith's journey. After his grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, he began telling Smith his stories.

"He told me there is a secret in the space between your fingers," Smith recalled.

Which inspired Smith to uncover as many secrets as he could with his 10,000 Strangers Campaign.

Smith is spending 100 days on the road asking strangers to take a moment and share their story.

"I think a lot of times seniors don't have anyone who will look them in the eye and just say where they have been? What's your story," he stated.

The project is unique in that each participant won't sign their name. Instead they will trace their handprint on a postcard and then fill in the space between their fingers with a life story.

"Each one of those postcards is like a little page of American history," said Smith.

Capturing a piece of that history is critical for Kristine Istwan as her mother, Claire Holmgren, is struggling with Alzheimers.

"It's challenging everyday. I don't know that you can say there is one aspect of it that's any harder than the other, it's just difficult all the way around," she said.

Which is why this once in a lifetime project was so important.

"To know the things that kind of matter the most, most important to her, are the things that I really want to try and get at now," Istwan stated.

Among the many memories Istwan hopes to preserve is the bond she shares with her mother.

"One of  the fondest pictures I have of my mother and I together is the two of us holding hands. That
human touch that interlocking when two people connect, it's hard to express in words what that
means," Istwan said.

Thanks to this project Istwan has uncovered a new bond with her mother. When the time comes that she can no longer take her mother's hand, the space between them will no doubt be filled with her memory, her story, her secrets.

"What this project is all about is celebrating where we come from and our memories and leaving something behind that we can pass on," Smith explained.

Smith plans to collect all the postcards and have them archived in The Willam B. McNamee Wisdom Library in Philadelphia. The goal will be for visitors to find an anonymous handprint that matches their own and then know that is a story they were meant to find.

For more information about the Space Between Your Fingers project visit www.sbyfproject.com.

For more information about The Beatitudes Campus and Alzheimer's Awareness Month visit www.alz.org/wam2012/wam.asp and www.beatitudescampus.org.