Between my junior and senior year of high school, I worked as an assistant activities coordinator at Monte Vista Grove Homes, the nursing home where my grandfather spent the past two years of his life.
The work was rewarding, but difficult: though a present and friendly staff dutifully cared for the elders in the home, I was struck by how lonely many of the residents still were.
And though the difficult realities of their lives seemed obvious to me, I grew to realize just how invisible their struggles were to my friends at school and to my loved ones – very few ever stepped foot into a nursing home or retirement community; and we all, it seemed, were victims of a large social and geographical gap separating the generations.
Because I saw a need for more engagement in the nursing home, and great resources in my friends and family members, I decided to make the link: an intergenerational connection seemed perfect to infuse both parties with the possibility to grow and learn from one another and to share together in their resources.
It also created a curriculum for service learning projects in high school classes that served to connect students with local retirement communities.
This project sits at the nexus of what I came to see as the most important learning experience I had as a young teenager.
The project taught me that holism is always stronger than segmentation; that problems are never intractable; that there is always hope; and that the mere act of bringing two unlikely people together – in this case, the young and the old – brings great joy, transformation and enrichment for all.
How did this project impact others?
I cannot know for sure. But many of the community members, who took computer classes in the retirement community, now have their own computers at home, which they use regularly to email family and friends.
And many of the students involved in the project reported greater awareness of, and respect towards, elders in the community – and some even went on to take gerontology classes in college.
My project was successful because of the people involved.
It took several groups to make this project happen: the lovely people at Monte Vista Grove Homes, who both supported the project and engaged with it enthusiastically; my school, Westridge School for Girls, which donated computers for the classes; and all of the volunteers, who spent much of their time learning how to teach computer basics with patience, wit, and – most importantly – an open-mind.