Recently, our Guide Rebecca Priest collaborated with Professor Jim Bowman of St. John Fisher College. Several students from his senior writing class came to St. John’s Home for a service learning project, in which they had several meetings with elders at the home. During these meetings, the students collected life histories from the elders. It may not be surprising that the elders benefitted from these visits. But how about the students? Here are representative comments from the class:
“When our professor first told us we would be working with the elderly, who had differing stages of dementia no less, I was mad. I felt like I had to take time out of my day to see someone I didn’t even know. I complained and faked being positive. But my attitude has done a complete 180. I sat there crying uncontrollably at the closing ceremony, because Yavonne was someone who had touched my life. She taught me more than I can ever even explain. She taught us life lessons about religion, family, and living life to the fullest. Yavonne proved that you should do what makes you happy – not what will make others happy. Now when I see an elderly person I am patient, interested. You never know someone’s story. I regret how I felt in the beginning but I think my attitude change is enough to prove this experience was well worth it – especially for someone like me.”
“After spending so many weeks together listening to her stories and sharing some of our own, I have learned that you don’t need a fancy degree to be a teacher. Mickey has proven that the best lessons in life actually come from having lived life…I could find parallels in her life story that reflected the same situations and feelings that I had experienced. In the beginning I saw this as merely a project—just one more thing to check off on my way toward receiving my diploma. In the end I have come to realize that this was, and is, one of the most rewarding classes I have ever had the opportunity to participate in.”
“The Service Learning collaboration between St. John Fisher College and St. John’s Home created a completely different kind of learning environment than I have ever experienced before. Working with Ann was one of the best things that I have done in my whole college career. I honestly feel that I learned key lessons about life from Ann that I would have never learned in a classroom…. Initially, I had the mindset that I was going to be doing a favor for the person that I was to be partnered with; however, looking back, I feel Ann did me a favor more than I did her.”
“At first mention, working with elders certainly did not excite me. I was concerned, not only with the constant back and forth commute from week-to-week that was required, but more with the idea of being partnered with an ageing lady who may have been racist – I’m just being honest. After my first visit however, the concern became a pulsing curiosity and the nervousness, joy.”
“I hope that the other elders and their biographers enjoyed this experience as much as Mickey, Kelly and I enjoyed ours. After spending so many weeks together listening to her stories and sharing some of our own, I have learned that you don’t need a fancy degree to be a teacher. Mickey has proven that the best lessons in life actually come from having lived life.”
So…what are old people for?