A group of Eastern Kentucky University students pulled up chairs in the lobby of Morning Pointe, surrounding a resident one chilly, late October afternoon.
“Did you have fun on your trip?” a young woman asked the elderly woman. At first, the resident looked overwhelmed, and her answers were short and in hushed tones. But as the afternoon wore on, the half dozen or so EKU students and the woman ended up discussing everything from voting to health care and even tattoos and body piercing.
In another area of the lobby, students and residents were painting. Down the hall, several male EKU students were asking a World War II veteran about the countries he visited during the war.
“What was your favorite stop?” one student asked the resident, who had been an aviator.
“When I came back home,” he replied.
The EKU students were visiting the senior-care facility as part of a service-learning project in one of their classes, according to instructor Sherry Jones. The class is titled Recreation Therapy for the Senior Adult.
This is the first time the class has worked with residents at Morning Pointe, however, the class has partnered with the Madison County Senior Citizens Center and Madison Tower in the past.
At the start of the class, students were instructed to write 10 things about seniors.
“About half of those things were negative,” Jones said. “... But as the semester progresses, you see (the students) learn that seniors can be active well into their 80s and 90s.
Many of her students will pursue careers that involve senior citizens, including working at retirement and long-term care facilities.
“Contrary to their beliefs, life doesn’t end at 50,” Jones said with a chuckle.
Each student is paired with a Morning Pointe resident, ideally one-on-one, but sometimes more than one student is matched with a resident. They visit the facility once a week during the fall semester.
“They have to have an activity planned for the day,” Jones said. Students must learn their senior friend’s interests, like reading and crosswords, in order to better prepare for their sessions.
Afterward, the students write journal entries on the things they discussed or did with their senior buddies. They write about the conversations they had, the activity they did and their senior friend’s mood and behavior during the interaction.
Mariah Fosdick, life enrichment director at Morning Pointe, said she was thrilled to have the EKU students work with her residents.
“It’s just a good time that they can engage with each other,” Fosdick said.
Fosdick said some residents have been shy and slow to warm up to the students, but she’s seen several open up more as the visits continued.
One resident in particular always makes sure her candy dish is full before the students’ weekly visit.
“I always ask her, ‘Do you have any good stories ready?’” Fosdick said.
Jones said her students have had varying personal experience interacting with the elderly. One student in particular had difficulty in the beginning of the semester talking about the aging process due to losing a grandparent recently who had suffered from dementia, Jones said.
“Going through this semester, students learn about the aging process as well as death and dying,” Jones said.
While some of her students have discovered through the class that their career interests lay elsewhere, some of the young adults are excited to continue working with the elderly.
One student in particular has learned a lot from her new friend, Jones said.
“Her buddy has taught her that age is nothing but a number,” Jones said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.