Sharing Across Generations


Our last blog post highlighted several preschool programs embedded in retirement communities—with incredible benefits in terms of quality of life for the older folks.  But four-year-olds aren’t the only young people brightening the lives of retirement home residents. Another type of exchange is happening around the country and around the globe—college students are moving into facilities for the elderly.


Not every college student wants to live a life of late-night parties, dorm rooms and dining halls. For those looking for something different, or planning a career in healthcare or social work, a mutually beneficial relationship with a retirement community may be just what they are looking for.


Humanitas, a retirement home in the Netherlands, has perhaps the most well-known program of its kind. In addition to its 160 seniors, the facility houses six college students (including Onno Selbach, pictured above) who spend a minimum of 30 hours per month interacting with residents in exchange for rent-free apartments. “The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth in the contact,” says Humanitas head Gea Sijpkes.


Similar programs have sprung up in the States as well. For example, Western Home Communities in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has incorporated students from the University of Northern Iowa. Students provide 10-15 hours of engagement activities per week, and pay only $150 per month rent, as well as receiving 15 meals a week.


In Ohio, students at the Cleveland Institute of Music trade musical performances for free housing at the Judson Retirement Community. Students at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Ursuline College also provide art therapy and companionship in exchange for free rent.


“Residents have said the students add a youthful energy to the atmosphere,” affirms Cynthia H. Dunn, President and CEO of Judson. The relationship with residents is equally valuable to the students. Dunn explains, “The music students benefit from having a mature, knowledgeable and attentive audience of music lovers. The residents really care about the students and offer supportive feedback about their performances. Many of the students say they feel that the residents are an extension of their own family.”


As Carolyn Martin, director of volunteer services at Western Home Communities, says, “It’s been shown in many, many studies that interaction between generations shows benefits for seniors. And the longer-term immersion is even better.” With so much to be gained from intergenerational programs, we hope to see this trend continue with all ages, from the smiles and laughter to be enoyed with the littlest youngsters to the life lessons to be shared with those beginning their adult lives.


Links & References


Dutch retirement home Humanitas on PBS

More about Humanitas, and programs in Ohio

University of Northern Iowa students living in a retirement facility

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