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Wiser With Age

Written by Christian Laurence '08
10/4/2007

Christian Laurence '08 and John Lloyd at Longivew

My maternal grandmother is my hero.

I admire her indomitable, hopeful spirit, which has enabled her to survive three cancers and to find no limitation in her need to use oxygen 24-7. She continues to live life to the fullest, learning something new every day. My passion to pursue a career related to older adults and the reason I am an aging studies major at Ithaca College can be directly attributed to her.

Aging studies is the study of the social, psychological, and biological aspects of aging. IC’s Gerontology Institute oversees the College’s partnership with Longview, a local retirement community. Longview residents can audit IC classes, and students are encouraged to become involved in Longview activities to interact with residents in various capacities. What could be better than learning firsthand from the population that you are studying?

At Longview I’ve helped organize and facilitate activities such as sing-alongs, assisted with adult day care programs, participated in weekly afternoon teas, and visited residents in a one-on-one setting. When the opportunity arose to take Professor Christine Pogorzala’s Service Learning in Aging class, I enrolled eagerly. The focus of the class was to identify a worthwhile service project at McGraw House, an apartment complex for older adults located in downtown Ithaca. Before selecting a project, our class participated in numerous discussions centered around older adult issues, such as the pros and cons of aging in place (growing old in one’s home) versus living in a community-oriented environment. These discussions inspired us to design some meaningful and stimulating activities for McGraw House residents.

What made this class unique was the involvement of five Longview residents who actively participated in our discussions and traveled to McGraw House. These residents brought their own unique perspectives to the project, sharing experiences from their former careers, observations from international travel, the reasons they moved into Longview, and the life challenges that they face as older adults. The interaction among Longview and McGraw residents was also a fascinating and valuable learning tool.

Our class project consisted of two phases. First, we developed a contact book that the McGraw residents could use to schedule activities. This contact book ensured that our project would be sustainable beyond one semester while simultaneously alerting McGraw residents to local Ithaca resources, such as student and community organizations that could be contacted to provide activities for older adults. The second phase of our project was to plan and implement three activities at McGraw House.

As the semester progressed, I grew particularly close to Longview resident John Lloyd. Being among the few males in our class, Mr. Lloyd and I formed a natural connection and quickly established a strong friendship. We regularly stayed after class together to chat and rearrange the furniture for the next activity. I am looking forward to accepting Mr. Lloyd’s offer to have dinner together at Longview this coming semester!

As an active member of the Longview Kazoo Band, Mr. Lloyd was central in organizing one of the social activities at McGraw House—an intergenerational kazoo performance. Mr. Lloyd prepared us by distributing kazoos to each student and teaching us the lyrics and tunes to classic sing-along songs. Other Longview residents pitched in to create handmade flowers and pass out hats to create a festive atmosphere.

Marching around waving American flags to the tune of “It’s A Grand Old Flag” while McGraw residents enthusiastically clapped along brought back memories of high school band for me. It was also educational for our class; we became aware of different cultural and generational nuances through the music that the residents of Longview and McGraw House knew so well. The McGraw residents clearly enjoyed the performance as much as we enjoyed giving it—all our hard work and preparation was rewarded with smiles and laughter from the residents.

The intergenerational relationships I’ve formed through this class and other Longview activities have had a lasting impact on me. My life has been enhanced, and the lens through which I view the world has been broadened by my friendships with older adults like Mr. Lloyd. I’ve also learned an important lesson about the role that reflection plays in service learning and personal growth. This class reinforced the idea that when participating in some kind of service, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not there only to help somebody; rather it’s a two-way exchange of learning from each other. I believe that the interactions I have had with older adults allow me to understand where we have been, what we have experienced, and where we may go as a society.



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