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Student organization ‘Adopt-a-Grandparent’ connects Carls with elderly community residents

Every Sunday afternoon, a group of Carleton students take a well deserved break from studying and drive to Three Links Care Center, where their “grandparents” live. These students are part of the CCCE volunteer program aptly titled Adopt-a-Grandparent, which matches students with elderly residents at a local nursing home. For an hour on Sundays, students visit with their “buddies” and provide companionship.

Sara Liu ’22, one of the group’s two Program Directors, describes a typical visit: “Student-buddy pairs usually chat for an hour, swapping stories. Some buddies are more introverted and prefer to do activities like puzzles or watching television.”

For the elderly residents, the transition to life in a nursing home setting can be a difficult and lonely. Liu explains that many of the residents “grew up in large families, always surrounded by loved ones. Now, they stay in a room by themselves for most of the day or with a roommate they generally don’t talk to.

The group’s other program director, Emily Fichandler ’20, added, “As people age, their lives can become smaller — their room is confining, they don’t see people as much as they did when they were younger, they lose the ability to do many things they once valued.”

Students that volunteer at the Center, the directors believe, can be a source of positivity, energy, and light for the residents. “I go every Sunday and do my best to brighten my resident’s day” Fichandler said, “Whether through playing cards, listening to old stories, or sharing about my week. It can be a hard but rewarding hour.”

The program’s goal is to ensure that residents at Three Links feel valued and cared for. According to Erica Zweifel, the Associate Director of the CCCE, Adopt-a-Grandparent is categorized as a “Health and Wellbeing” focused volunteer program.

“This program is of interest to students considering health related careers as this experience provides a window into geriatric care,” she remarked. Zweifel also commented that Carleton is considering expanding the program with Northfield Retirement Community as a potential second location.Many students involved in the program form lasting relationships with their assigned buddy. Fichandler has had two buddies during her time at Carleton, and she has been visiting with her current buddy for two years. “My buddy loves to tell and retell stories. I write her letters when I’m away and bring her small tokens so she can be reminded of me during the week. She may not always remember my name, but her face lights up when I walk in and we turn down the TV to chat more easily.”

While the elderly residents enjoy engaging with the volunteers and benefit from their weekly interactions, students also gain a lot from the experience. Reflecting on her participation over the years, Fichandler said “I have learned perspective. As a volunteer I know I must leave my thoughts or tiredness at the door — I am here for my buddy. I have learned the power my presence can be, and how good it feels to give my time to another.”

Liu found that the residents carry invaluable insight and wisdom; she says, “My buddy always tells me that life is like a letter that hasn’t been fully written. You cannot receive that kind of life advice from someone who is our age or even our parent’s age. There’s a lot we can learn from the experiences of the generations that came before us.”

Volunteers believe the cross-generational friendships created within the program are mutually engaging and enriching. As Fichandler put it, “Intergenerational” friendships widen our worlds.”

Students interested it the Adopt-a-Grandparent program can join the group at any point in the academic year by contacting Sara Liu or Emily Fichandler.

Many students involved in the program form lasting relationships with their assigned buddy. Fichandler has had two buddies during her time at Carleton, and she has been visiting with her current buddy for two years. “My buddy loves to tell and retell stories. I write her letters when I’m away and bring her small tokens so she can be reminded of me during the week. She may not always remember my name, but her face lights up when I walk in and we turn down the TV to chat more easily.”

While the elderly residents enjoy engaging with the volunteers and benefit from their weekly interactions, students also gain a lot from the experience. Reflecting on her participation over the years, Fichandler said “I have learned perspective. As a volunteer I know I must leave my thoughts or tiredness at the door — I am here for my buddy. I have learned the power my presence can be, and how good it feels to give my time to another.”

Liu found that the residents carry invaluable insight and wisdom; she says, “My buddy always tells me that life is like a letter that hasn’t been fully written. You cannot receive that kind of life advice from someone who is our age or even our parent’s age. There’s a lot we can learn from the experiences of the generations that came before us.”

Volunteers believe the cross-generational friendships created within the program are mutually engaging and enriching. As Fichandler put it, “Intergenerational” friendships widen our worlds.”

Students interested it the Adopt-a-Grandparent program can join the group at any point in the academic year by contacting Sara Liu or Emily Fichandler.

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