Friday, January 10, 2014

University Students and LBFE Elders Share Lessons on Aging and Friendship

Back to school for elder Ginnie and North Park student Kathryn
This post -- along with the photos -- appears courtesy of 2014 edition of Friendship, a print newsletter of Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, Chicago Chapter.

“When we go to visit Ginnie, it’s not school work, it’s not going to see an elderly lady. For me it’s getting to visit a friend,” wrote Phoenix, a student at Chicago’s North Park University. She is one of many students who benefited from Stories from a Graying America, a college course that brings students into direct contact with LBFE elders.

The course was developed by Lee Strickland, affiliate instructor of dialogue at North Park, in partnership with Christine Bertrand, LBFE’s intergenerational program coordinator. LBFE elders and North Park students are brought together for the duration of the course about aging in America. It’s a general education course with a service learning focus, which incorporates ways for students to give back to others.

“At North Park, we train students for lives of significance and service with a special emphasis on urban engagement,” says Strickland. “We encourage students to develop authentic relationships in the community and get out of the classroom to do meaningful service.”

Students learn about the issues and challenges of aging in society through reading, watching films, participating in classroom discussions and, most important, interacting with those who actually are aging in America.

A North Park University Student working with elder Dorothy
The students meet once a week in class and count their visits with elders as their second weekly class. Two students are paired with an LBFE elder. “By forming friendships with elderly neighbors, we learn their stories, needs and contributions,” says Strickland. “We participate in intergenerational dialogue, which is also intercultural.”

Vital Opportunities

The first course offered in partnership with LBFE was in fall 2012. By the end of the spring 2014 semester, more than 80 students will have participated. A core group of 10 elders volunteers each semester, with some new elders joining and others occasionally opting out. Strickland and Bertrand continue to revise and refine the course as they get feedback from students and elders.

Says student Christiana: “Before, I never paid attention to the elderly I saw on the streets. The determination and will to do things is what I admire most about the elderly after taking this course. I also learned that elderly people like to interact with different age groups and not just people their own age.”

Students and elders also have a lot of fun. “My partner and I agree that neither of us has ever met an elder like Marguerite who was more active than us!” says student Dontrell.

For elder Joyce, who has participated since the first semester, the interaction with the young people is invigorating. “You forget your aches and pains when they come over,” she says.

Bertrand appreciates the chance to offer elders a way to be engaged in the community and to benefit others by sharing their experience. Strickland notes, “The most important thing you can do for elders is not let their talents be wasted – the elders have so much to give.”

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