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Connecting Generations

Written by Alyssa Figueroa

Connie Honeycutt '12 offers two Longview residents a quick cell phone lesson. Photo: Jeff Goodwin '10

Unique partnership brings students and seniors together: Last fall, Sabrina Higgins ’09 traveled to Longview, a residential senior community in Ithaca, twice a week to teach Harold Sweet, 95, how to use a computer. When they began he didn’t even know how to turn it on, but after a few weeks he was e-mailing with his family. “He didn’t call the computer a ‘monster’ anymore,” Higgins remembers.

Though Sweet passed away last year, Higgins says their relationship is her fondest memory of her time at Longview. His family even provided her with a copy of his journal afterward in which he spoke about her. “I didn’t even know he talked about me to his family,” she says. “In one semester, I made such a difference in his life, and he made one in mine.”

Longview residents Ted and Janet Buckley sit in on an aging studies class. Photo: Jeff Goodwin '10

Longview residents Ted and Janet Buckley sit in on an aging studies class.

Each year, approximately 300 students and 25 faculty members from every school participate in clinical, academic, and volunteer activities with Longview residents. Physical therapy majors work with residents as part of their motor development course, accounting majors help residents with their taxes, and students in communication courses organize events for the residents, just to name a few.

“Ithaca College students are really lucky to have such a wonderful facility right up the road to get such great experience,” Higgins says.

Students clubs also participate in the partnership. Both the dance club and gymnastics team have performed there. The College’s volunteer organization, Circle K, plays bingo with residents every Monday, and the gerontology club gives residents makeovers as part of their Glam Girls program. Student singers even perform with residents in the intergenerational choir.

Integrated marketing communications major Dan Haack ’10 has been volunteering at Longview since his freshman year as part of the Longview Literary Circle program, where he and other students gather with residents to read short stories. “It is really fascinating to get the residents’ perspectives,” he explains. “Interacting with senior citizens takes you out of the college bubble where you’re surrounded by your peers. Their wisdom is something you can’t get in the classroom.”

Or maybe you can. Besides making appearances in the library, at football games, and at various performances, some Longview residents attend classes on campus. Residents have sat in on history classes to talk about life during the Great Depression and have spoken in aging studies classes about what it’s like growing older.

“We like to keep our minds active, while being able to offer stuff to the students,” explains Don Burton, 82. Both Don and his wife, Doris, attend an aging studies class at IC three times per week.

Back at Longview, Don participates in the Slice of Life program, in which occupational therapy students and residents teach each other something new. For example, Don teaches the OT students about different plants in the greenhouse while the students teach him how to bake.

Doris enjoys the Be Sharp, Stay Sharp program, run by Chris Pogorzala, Ithaca College/Longview coordinator and assistant professor of gerontology. The program engages residents in word, number, memory, and creative activities.

“The desire to keep learning and keep social interaction going is all positive for people as they age,” Pogorzala says of these programs.

With over 40 programs in place throughout a typical semester, students and residents have many ways to come together and appreciate each other. John Krout, professor of gerontology and the director of the Gerontology Institute at IC, says that Ithaca College is one of the few schools that offer students and senior citizens such an interactive experience.

Members from both groups are certainly appreciative of this distinctive collaboration. Don says the students “are young and energetic and have a fresh outlook on life. It’s very interesting to get to know them.”

Visiting Longview is one of Haack’s favorite times during the week. It relieves stress and he values the friendship he has made with his elders, especially his relationship with 75-year-old resident Eleanor Merrifield. “She’s feisty, sassy, on top of her game,” he says. “I’ve spent hours listening to her talk about her life and telling her what was going on in mine.”

Participating at Longview is a great choice for incoming students, adds Higgins. "It's a good way to get involved with the community, make a connection, and get advice and wisdom from someone older than you."



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