Workshop brings students and seniors together to address community needs
By Kristian Partington
It’s been more than 20 years since Marlene Lehman stood before a group of young people as an educator, but once a teacher, always a teacher, she says.
In early March, Marlene and a group of fellow residents at the Village of Riverside Glen had the opportunity to host a group of High School students from Guelph’s St. James Catholic High School, and Marlene says she was amazed by the way the students carried themselves. As an educator, she was impressed by the work ethic the students displayed and the subject matter they discussed that day.
The students visited the village to interview residents as part of an Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) workshop, where the goal was to learn more about the needs and desires of older adults in the community and develop ideas to meet those needs.
“I was just amazed,” Marlene says. “Years ago when I was still teaching, we didn’t work much in groups and these children, they work and support one another. It’ll certainly give them a lot of insight into what they’re going to do with their future.”
The students were part of the school’s Non-profit and Health and Wellness Specialized High Skills Major (SHSM) program, and Ruthanne Finnigan, the Co-op Co-ordinator and SHSM Lead with the Wellington Catholic District School Board, says the workshop was a success in a number of ways.
First of all, the students presented some interesting ideas to meet the needs of seniors, such as a technology education program or a safe, accessible walking trail along the river near the village. Beyond that, however, the students quickly developed meaningful connections with the residents they met and, in doing so, gained a different perspective on what life can be in a retirement or long-term care setting.
“Most of those kids had never been into a retirement home and when they walked in and saw it, it was way beyond their wildest dreams,” Ruthanne explains. Their original focus question was based on the presumption that the choice to move into the village meant residents had left much of their community behind. The students quickly realized residents were quite content, however, so instead of asking what more the community could bring into the village to support residents, the students simply asked what more the residents would like to see in their day-to-day lives.
One of the ideas presented expanded upon the idea of young people collaborating with seniors to address community challenges, perhaps through the creation of a senior/student council within a high school setting.
It is this kind of response that Riverside Glen’s recreation director Ted Mahy was hoping for when he helped organized the workshop.
“It was great to walk around and listen to the conversations happening,” Ted says. “At the end of the interviewing time, it was hard to pull the students away from the residents to continue their work. The relationships they built in such a short time were amazing to see.”
Marlene admits there was a bit of apprehension before the students arrived, not knowing whether or not they’d be able to bridge the generation gap, but that worry quickly dissipated.
“They fit right in,” Marlene says. “It’s quite an idea and I hope they continue it another year.”