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North Hills Monthly

Younger and Older Generations Connecting through Students in Residence Program

Apr 27, 2020 08:51PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Ricardo Serrano-Perez spends time with Vincentian residents by hosting game nights, cultural presentations and finger painting.

It is a unique program and certainly one novel to the region—college students residing with senior citizens. Vincentian Terrace Place Senior Living residents and La Roche University students have been neighbors since last fall.

The program began early 

on during the building phase of Vincentian, when officials at Vincentian and Sr. Candace Introcaso, president of 

La Roche, began discussing the possibility of intergenerational living. 

"This partnership was a natural fit. Both Vincentian and La Roche University have rich, faith-based traditions that value individual development in mind, body and spirit,” said Jude Hazard, Vincentian spokesperson. “While providing rewarding, intergenerational experiences for residents and students, we're also helping to combat social isolation, which can be particularly challenging for young adults and older adults.” 

The project is important for both entities. “We agree that there is great value and mutual benefit in students and seniors interacting with each other and living in close proximity,” said Sr. Introcaso. 

It isn’t the first joint project between the two. “There are other ways in which La Roche students interact with residents of other Vincentian Collaborative facilities,” said Sr. Introcaso. “For instance, two years ago our upper-level Interior Design students created a redesign of the common areas at the Vincentian skilled nursing venue.” 

Vincentian offered La Roche students the opportunity to live rent-free in the brand new senior living apartment building located a short distance from the McCandless campus. In return, students are required to spend at least six hours a week doing things such as assisting with chores, organizing social activities, or assisting with technology. Students must be in good standing with at least a 2.5 GPA and entering their sophomore year or higher. For the pilot project, 10 students were interviewed with three selected, according to Sr. Introcaso. 

Even though Jessica Hannes, a 21-year-old junior, had never lived in the dorms, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity. 

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am always looking for ways to grow and put myself out there, and I thought this program would do just that,” she said. The Shaler resident shares her Vincentian apartment with fellow student Natasha Ngwande. 

In exchange for free rent, Hannes has planned social events such as book clubs and movie nights. “I created a survey at one point when I couldn't think of fun events to plan so I could get their input,” she said. “I wanted them to have a voice in what I planned.”

Ngwande teaches exercise classes including ZUMBA, and a third student, Ricardo Serano-Perez, teaches cooking classes. 

The program has worked out even better than expected, according to Vincentian Manager of Independent Living Christopher Luff. 

“Nearly everyone participates in at least some of the activities, and the majority participate in most,” he said. “Each of the three students brings a different set of skills and programs to the residents, and they appreciate what each student brings individually and collectively.” 

Vincentian residents Albert and Amy Byrnes agreed. Amy enjoys Ngwande’s exercise classes.

“We love her. She has adapted the classes for our abilities and brings us such joy. The students really add a wonderful dimension to life here,” she said.

Albert looks forward to conversations with his younger neighbors.

“It’s wonderful having fresh new ideas and discussions. They don’t sit around and talk about hearing aids,” he joked. 

Combating loneliness for the residents is the biggest advantage of the project, Luff said. 

“It is very evident that some of our residents just need a way to bond with others. The events that the students run allow for the residents to create a bond with both the students themselves and the other residents,” he explained. 

Sr. Candace agreed. “The result is a tighter community for not only the residents, but the students. Specifically, the program provides an opportunity for sharing between generations that many of our students may not have experienced before. It is something that has the power to shape their lives.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on the project. Students and residents are all on quarantine, limiting exposure with each other. 

“We really miss them,” Amy Byrnes said. “They bring such joy to us and add a wonderful dimension to our lives.”

And the feeling is mutual. “It truly is an amazing experience. I never would have imagined myself building relationships with those who were not generally my age,” said Hannes. “I am grateful to be able to call some of the residents my friends. They are always looking out for me.”  

Moving forward, Sr. Candace believes the pilot project is the start of other similar partnerships.

“It is my hope that, in the not-too-distant future, we will be in a position to partner with other interested parties to build an intergenerational living and learning facility on campus that would house senior residents, current students, perhaps some retired faculty, staff and alumni,” she said. “It could be a model of how this idea of intergenerational living and a commitment to lifelong learning can enhance life for everyone.” 

Hazard added, “We are so proud of the students and residents for the many ways in which they've connected over the last year, and we look forward to working with La Roche to grow this vibrant program."