At Masonicare, a life plan community in Wallingford, CT, residents are often seen socializing and laughing with their peers. Opportunities for engagement are robust. Residents receive invitations to participate in events that seek to build and nurture meaningful connections with one another.
In February 2016, an unusual invitation went out: Residents were asked to attend a gathering where they would be introduced a group of people from outside Masonicare—people who were looking to meet and develop new friendships.
On the day of the event, the energy in the room was contagious; participants hit it off famously, despite having just met.
One resident shared that she was especially excited to meet her new friend as she felt that meeting and getting to know someone new would be important for her. A gentleman met a friend who was going to help him learn how to use the iPad, something he had wanted to learn for a while.
What was most remarkable about this event was not that friends were made that day; it was that the bonds created were between students from Quinnipiac University and elders at Masonicare, individuals with decades between them. The students responsible for organizing this successful event were Victoria Kozar and Joseph Huberman. When the event concluded, most of the students drove back to their dorms, several miles away from Masonicare.
Kozar and Huberman, however, did not need to drive back to their dorms. Instead, they had only a short walk back to their rooms, because they reside in the assisted living community at Masonicare.
The Students-in-Residence Program
An assisted living community is not typically a place college students expect to build new friendships, but it is here that Kozar and Huberman have met some of their closest friends. Both were selected as the first students-in-residence at Masonicare.
Each has their own private room, and while there is no financial obligation, the students provide at least 8 hours of service per week. Huberman can often be found at the piano, either at happy hours or at celebrations of life—ceremonies held to honor those who pass away. Kozar can be found baking, playing cards or coordinating special engagement opportunities. One of the most memorable events she organized was a fashion show that brought several students to Masonicare for an afternoon of fashion, dancing and socialization.
Years ago, after attending the LeadingAge Annual Meeting in Nashville, leaders from Masonicare learned of student musicians living with older adults in another part of the country. They became excited about the possibility of bringing students to Masonicare. Conversations began between colleagues from Masonicare and Quinnipiac to discuss the idea and it was then that it began to generate momentum. A design team was convened to organize details of the program, a process that took several months. Once the program was announced, more than 20 students from a variety of different majors applied for the inaugural program at Masonicare. The decision to select Huberman and Kozar was made by members of the design team in collaboration with a group of residents from Masonicare at Ashlar Village.
In witnessing the meaningful friendships quickly forming between the elders and the students, Masonicare staff and Quinnipiac faculty challenged Huberman and Kozar to think about how more intergenerational friendships could be cultivated between students and residents. Out of this conversation, the idea for an intergenerational friendship club was born. For the team responsible for bringing the Students-In-Residence program to fruition, witnessing it unfold has been a source of much pride.
Masonicare’s Students-In-Residence program has been impactful for both students and elders. The students have been blogging about their experiences. Their blogs and their everyday conversations with their peers help to destroy many of the myths associated with aging. For the Masonicare residents, Kozar and Huberman have become fixtures within the community. While they may differ in age, the students and residents have much in common. The elders have enjoyed sharing mealtimes with the students; more importantly, they appreciate the opportunity to share their wisdom with their younger counterparts.
In many ways, the Students-In-Residence program has sought to combat ageism. Negative attitudes about the aging process exist everywhere, and aging is often associated with decline, frailty and morbidity. Through this experience, students have been granted access to a different lens through which to view aging. They are exposed to elders who are full of energy, wisdom and vitality. Likewise, this program has helped to combat reverse ageism—discrimination against young people. The older adults have come to embrace the youth as responsible, hard-working, dedicated, compassionate individuals.
While the students’ time at the community is soon coming to an end, Masonicare has committed to hosting two more students-in-residence for the next academic year.
Erica DeFrancesco, MS, OTR/L, is assistant clinical professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT. Kelly Papa, MSN, RN, is corporate director of learning for Masonicare, Wallingford, CT.