Students to live in retirement home in new program

When Western University graduate Heather Gingerich saw a news segment about an Ohio retirement home where music students lived alongside seniors, she was amazed at the electric atmosphere as the young residents conversed with and performed for their older neighbours.

That kind of environment is one she wants to recreate in Canada with a program offering free room and board for a small group of Western University music students at a London, Ont., retirement home.

The program currently plans to place three upper-year Western music students at Oakcrossing Retirement Living starting in October. In exchange for the free accommodation and meals, the students will be expected to spend a dozen hours a week with their elderly neighbours.

Gingerich, who works for the retirement home and graduated from Western’s music program herself, said the idea is an inter-generational opportunity for both young and old to learn from each other.

“When we share the program details, (residents) are extremely excited to be a part of it and see it develop,” said Gingerich. ”They’re also intrigued by what it could mean for them, so it’s been nothing but positive.”

Gingerich said the interaction with students and their music will enrich the lives of the home’s senior residents. And she hopes the program can foster a grandparent-like relationship between the students and residents.

Betty Anne Younker, dean of Western’s music faculty, said she was excited about what the opportunity could bring for students. While she said she’ll need to see how successful the idea is before future expansion, she said the program could be broadened in the future.

“There’s a sense of history that seniors will bring to the table in conversations and in engagement … our generation can learn from that,” said Younker

“I see it as a tremendous opportunity for community engagement and relationships that students can foster and in intergenerational living where people learn from each other and there’s a sense of reciprocity.

According to the music program’s student council leader, the idea has received a lot of interest among students on social media.

“Students think that it’s an interesting opportunity and great for the faculty and community,” said Kyle Tang, who said that he would have applied for the program if he didn’t have housing already.

He said that it’ll be valuable for music students to get to play in front of an audience that isn’t a part of their social circle.

While he says that free rent isn’t the biggest draw for most of the retirement home program applicants, it definitely is a bonus that will help students.

Gingerich expects the dozen hours students will spend with seniors each week will involve recitals in common rooms and impromptu concerts among their neighbours, as well as simply practicing music that will ring throughout the facility’s hallways.

“The gift of music in the home, that could never be a negative thing,” she said.

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