Adopt an Elder, a new program that gives students the opportunity to work directly with nursing home residents, held its first event April 4. Lily Goldfarb* (first-year) founded this program with the support of the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), a program that hosts workshops and a retreat in which first-year students develop on-campus businesses or social justice initiatives.
Goldfarb’s interest in working with the elderly aligns with a gap present in Occidental’s current community engagement offerings, according to Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne. There are many programs in which students are able to work with younger members of the community, such as the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), Asian American Tutorial Project (AATP) and Great Strides. However, none involve working with the elderly community, which is something that both Goldfarb and Turenne hoped to change with Adopt an Elder.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity to tap into the elderly population,” Turenne said. “It’s an area we haven’t really worked on, but I thought it would be an interesting way to expand what we do and to get students out working with a different group of people in our community.”
Assistant Director of New Student Programs and Leadership Development Amy Hill said that Goldfarb’s focus on interacting with the elderly population played a large part in why her program was initially selected. While all students involved in the ELP develop proposals for programs that they would like to create, only two are chosen to be supported through the Office of Community Engagement (OCE).
According to Hill, Goldfarb’s proposal stood out because of the thorough research she did before presenting it to OCE. Goldfarb even contacted the assisted living center and asking what their needs were in order to address them with her program.
Turenne emphasized that the role of the OCE is to support student projects rather than to take charge of them. Goldfarb has gained all of the necessary logistical leadership skills through the OCE, but how the program continues in the future is entirely up to her.
“It’s her choice what she wants to do with it next,” Turenne said. “Our job is to support her in trying to develop her project.”
In addition to the aid of the OCE, Goldfarb will receive a $500 grant toward her project at the end of the semester, provided she devotes at least 50 hours to it. This grant is funded through Campus Compact, a consortium of colleges and universities that are committed to community and civic engagement.
Goldfarb successfully organized one Adopt an Elder event April 4. She and seven other students visited Hollywood’s Alexandria Care Center, where they had the opportunity to take a few of the residents shopping at a dollar store a few blocks away.
“We were encouraged to talk to them and engage in conversation, and basically make their day a little brighter,” Adopt an Elder participant Laura Scott (first-year) said.
Scott’s experience was a positive one, albeit somewhat different from what she had originally anticipated.
“I went into it expecting to have a very cute elderly grandma who was very sweet,” Scott said.
Instead, she was assigned to a senior who was nicknamed “gangster granny” by the nurses—a grouchy woman infamous for having had multiple physical altercations with other residents. Although it took Scott and Goldfarb a while to get through to her, they were eventually rewarded with anecdotes about parking lot knife fights and glory days in Vegas.
“She was quite a character, but lots of fun,” Scott said. “She had all these crazy stories and all this life left in her.”
Scott is glad that Goldfarb has put this program together and intends to participate in the next event. She values the chance to connect with senior members of the community, and viewed it as a fun way to get to know other students better.
“I know if my grandparents were in a home I would want people to visit them,” Scott said. “I think it’s a great thing to do.”
Although Goldfarb is currently unsure about whether she wants Adopt an Elder to become a core group of people who volunteer on a regular basis or just an occasional service opportunity open to the larger student body, those in support of it are optimistic about its future.
“I hope to see Adopt Elder grow into and become a sustainable program that lasts long beyond Lily’s tenure at Oxy,” Hill said.
*Goldfarb is a staff member of The Occidental Weekly.