Students, Older Adults Both Benefit from AARP/CIC Intergenerational Connections

Families often observe a special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Reports submitted by campuses engaged in CIC’s Intergenerational Connections initiative show that a similar relationship also can occur between students and older adults in campus communities. Inspirational stories from participating colleges and universities around the country illustrate the reciprocal benefits of bringing together the wisdom and experience of elders and the enthusiasm, knowledge, and eagerness to learn of college students.

Twenty-one CIC member colleges and universities are participating in the 2017–2018 Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults project. Developed in partnership with the AARP Foundation, the project supports college students to help low-income older adults (ages 50 and older) tackle key life challenges and by doing so acquire valuable service-learning experiences. The initiative provides participating institutions with grants of up to $13,000 to create or expand campus-based projects that engage students in addressing four priorities of need by older adults in their campuses’ communities: healthy diets, safe and affordable housing, income-generation, and social interaction.

A student demonstrates balancing a paper cup on her outstretched hand to two older adults
A Meredith College (NC) student provides older adults an in-home lesson on ways to improve their balance. (Photo courtesy of Meredith College)

Interim reports exemplify how students and seniors learn from one another. For example, some students offer group lessons or individual tutorials on subjects they are studying in college, such as nutrition, exercise to maintain strength and flexibility, or the effective use of technology and social media. These activities enable students from a diverse array of academic backgrounds—including nursing, occupational therapy, computer science, sociology, and English literature—to address older adults’ needs while also developing potentially long-lasting interpersonal relationships. The projects give students the opportunity to influence and improve the lives of others, develop critical thinking skills, apply classroom lessons to everyday situations, and gain significant interpersonal and professional experience. As one student remarked, “Through my visits with the [older adult participants]…I have learned to adapt, to make new suggestions, and to think quickly on my feet when problems arise.”

The campus reports highlight several Intergenerational Connections projects:

PROJECTS FOCUSED ON “AGING IN PLACE”

Nursing and occupational therapy students at Dominican University of California visit the homes of older residents in a nearby rural community to conduct assessments and develop care plans to ensure that these individuals have the food, equipment, transportation, and medication they need to live at home safely with emotional support. At a local community agency, students also host events that provide home-safety and fall-prevention assistance. In addition, students have created and disseminated brochures on health-related topics and heart-healthy recipes—in both English and Spanish—at an array of community sites.

Meredith College (NC) students develop protocols for in-home visits, materials to inform seniors about conditions that increase the risk of falling, and exercise and balance training plans for older adults who are “aging in place.” They also develop materials to help other students teach balance to older adults in their communities.

PROJECTS FOCUSED ON REDUCING SOCIAL ISOLATION

Students in Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University (LA), Jarvis Christian College (TX), and Rust College (MS) assess the needs of their older adult partners before designing and teaching the technology skills they want and need. Students teach a range of topics from the basics of general computing, browsing the internet, and viewing YouTube channels to how to place calls, send text messages, and take pictures on a smartphone. As a result, at one institution, students and older adults engage in weekly text message conversations.

At Wofford College (SC), students implement creative activity workshops at eight community sites. Other Wofford students, most of whom are enrolled in courses with a community-engagement component, participate in student-led workshops alongside older adults. Workshop activities include sharing autobiographical discussions, writing fiction and poetry, painting, and creating craft projects, all based on prompts to which both students and older adults can relate.

A student seated at a table with three older adults demonstrating use of a smartphone and tablet
A Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University (LA) student teaches older adults how to use a cell phone and iPad. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University)


PROJECTS FOCUSED ON HEALTHY DIETS

Whitman College (WA) students organize and offer cooking classes for older men who are clients of the local senior center. The classes, which the students develop in partnership with the senior center’s chef and nutritionist, teach the participants general cooking techniques, how to prepare specific dishes, and tips and tricks for kitchen safety and smart ingredients shopping. Bridgewater College (VA) also offers nutrition programs to address hunger issues among older adults in its community.

Several institutions—Campbell University (NC), Pfeiffer University (NC), and Wheeling Jesuit University (WV)—develop or update community gardens both on campus and at local community partner sites. The food harvested from the gardens is shared among older adults, sold at a low cost to senior community members, and donated to local food pantries and meal centers. Students and older adults work together in the community gardens, where they exchange ideas and stories.

Both students and older adults involved in the Intergenerational Connections initiative have appreciated the potential broad and long-term benefits of their projects and interactions. One student commented, “While the primary goal of this fellowship is to teach computer use, I have learned…about their [older adult partners’] lives, experiences, and even how they remember historical events. This opportunity has influenced my desire to continue working with seniors even after the semester ends.”

Participating institutions already have seen significant community impact. As one project advisor observed, “Prior to this project, there was a disconnect between students and the community. Seeing [our] students do positive work in the community has improved the [public’s] view of what our institution is really about…. Students also see first-hand the benefits of community members working together…and understand the importance of connections within the community.”

Fifteen of the 2017–2018 Intergenerational Connections projects will receive renewal grants for use during the 2018–2019 academic year. In April, CIC announced a new cohort of 23 participating institutions that will roll out their projects in 2018–2019. View more information about the project, which is generously funded by the AARP Foundation.



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