Students and seniors learn from each other in this cross-generational program.
Thinking of everything seen and experienced in the lifetime of someone who is a part of the “Silent Generation” (1925 - 1945), is really quite incredible. They’ve seen the world change before their eyes—probably faster than any generation that’s followed them. This is a group of people whose parents, siblings and perhaps even themselves have fought in world wars and climbed their way out of the Great Depression. They’ve lived through challenging times and times of great prosperity. They’ve experienced love and loss. This group of people has a unique history and with that, a tremendous amount of wisdom to impart on younger generations. However, are those younger generations receiving this wisdom? Are they hearing these stories?
Unfortunately, the pace of the world, advancement in technology, and families not living in close proximity to each other, have caused a broader gap in the amount of wisdom and knowledge being passed on from older generations to younger ones. However, a local group of college students at Calvin University are working to change all that.
During a recent Medical Missions trip to Nepal, a group of Calvin medical students faced a clear language barrier. They were therefore faced with the challenge of showing love and compassion to patients and members of the local communities they visited by going beyond what words, physical care, and medicine could provide—with a smile, the touch of a hand, or simply being present.
Their experiences followed them home to Grand Rapids where they asked themselves how they could continue spreading love and compassion in their own community. It was then, while working as a Resident Care Assistant at neighboring Senior Living facility (Holland Home), that Evan Klein recognized just how much the older adult residents he interacted with at work had to share with him, and vice versa. And thus, Calvin Senior Friends was born.
Evan Klein, President of Calvin Senior Friends, leads a group program with Holland Home residents.
To “Love and be loved,” is how Klein, now President of Calvin Senior Friends, described his whole goal in forming the group. “We want to challenge students to experience meaningful relationships with elderly residents in our community,” he continued. The group has since worked with Holland Home to develop increased opportunities for cross-generational activities and programs for these two generations to listen to and learn from one another. The partnership additionally aims to challenge the social stigma on issues of aging and dementia.
This student-led group, now two years in the making, has since grown to include over 160 students, with at least one recreational and one educational event per month such as, tissue paper crafts, hymn singing, bussing Holland Home residents to Calvin for sporting events, and cookie decorating.
To “Love and be loved,” is how Klein, now President of Calvin Senior Friends, described his whole goal in forming the group. “We want to challenge students to experience meaningful relationships with elderly residents in our community.”
After each event, participating students and residents are asked, “What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned from someone else?” This is the group’s way of measuring the impact their efforts are having on both the students participating and the senior individuals they interact with.
The benefits of these students’ efforts are not only felt by the students themselves, but are backed by a number of studies and a great deal of research as well. In an article by LeisureCare, the power of intergenerational relationships is emphasized with a quote that really stuck with us: “I’ve learned that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” In addition, the article shared a number of mutually beneficial reasons as to why the older and younger generations should be spending more time together:
- The opportunity to learn new skills
- Improved communication
- Improved sense of purpose and meaning
- A better outlook on aging
- A reduction in feelings of isolation and loneliness
- The gratification of keeping life stories and history alive
- The building of an overall stronger community
During this month of giving, we’re hoping to encourage younger generations to take an opportunity to sit down with a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or perhaps a recipient of care and listen...You’re sure to not only learn something, but could perhaps share experiences or knowledge that teach something too. Our guess is, you’ll be thanking each other for the stories, wisdom, or simply the time—keeping in mind we all have areas we can grow and things we can learn from one another, whether you’re three or ninety-three.
¹Sauer, A. 2019. URL: https://www.leisurecare.com/resources/benefits-intergenerational-relationships/