When Winona State University student Ashley McGaw skateboards home after a long day of nursing classes, she’s greeted by an unusual entourage: the elderly residents of a Minnesota assisted living facility called Senior Living at Watkins.
According to WFAA, McGaw and several other college kids live there with 45 seniors as part of Winona Health’s “Students in Residence” program, in which students volunteer their time with residents in exchange for discounted rent. For 10 volunteer hours per month, it’s $400, and doubling your hours drops it to just $200 per month. Not only does that include meals, it also gives students the chance to forgo the usual college dorm building for the stately glamour of an old mansion—their rooms are located in the historic Watkins Manor House, which is attached to the assisted living facility.
For freshman Joel Olson, the opportunity seemed like a no-brainer.
“’All you have to do is spend some time with some really nice people?’” he remembers thinking, according to KARE 11. “Of course!”
As for how they spend that time, it’s up to the students. Graduate student Laura Jensen hosts weekly crocheting sessions, nursing student Hanna Rottier offers manicures, and bulletin boards advertise free tech support.
And, in return for sharing their time and talents, students get to experience the familial affection and grandparental concern that’s often scarce on a college campus.
“They all mother me,” Jensen tells KARE 11 about the members of her crocheting club. “They take care of me.”
Winona Health assisted living director Cheryl Krage sees evidence of this, too.
“I hear residents wondering how the students are doing with their studies,” Winona Health assisted living director Cheryl Krage tells KARE 11. “‘Are you eating enough, are you getting enough fruits and vegetable[s]?”
According to the program page on Winona Health’s website, the program is especially beneficial to students looking to enter the healthcare industry, whether that’s medical school, nursing, social work, rehabilitative therapy, or even music therapy.
It also keeps senior citizens connected to the next generation in a deeper way.
“Helps us stay young – ger,” senior resident Diane Sheldon told KARE 11.