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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Companionship for the elderly

UNI’s Service & Leadership Council teamed up with St. Stephen Catholic Student Center for National Volunteer Week on Monday at the Adopt a Grandparent program. Students met in the lobby of St. Stephen at 3p.m. and carpooled to Cedar Falls Healthcare Center where they spent time conversing, playing card games and coloring pictures with both temporary and permanent residents of the nursing home. 

“I think sometimes the elderly, especially in nursing homes, just get completely overlooked and don’t get cared for,” said Emily Knuth, sophomore leisure, youth and human services major. 

For St. Stephen, this event happens every other Monday and is open to anyone that wants to participate. According to Knuth, an active member of both SLC and St. Stephen, this week was the first time the church has worked with other student organizations for Adopt a Grandparent. 

“We value service a lot, so just going out in our community, because there is a larger community than just our college campus, and being able to go and reach those other people is our goal here,” Knuth said. 

At first, the Healthcare Center’s lobby was relatively quiet with very few residents sitting at the tables. The livelihood of the room shifted after the arrival of the student volunteers. Tables quickly filled with residents ready to play UNO and color, while another group of residents and students tossed a bouncy ball in a circle. 

For Lanna Whitlock, sophomore social work major, this wasn’t her first volunteer experience at UNI, but it was the first time she was able to volunteer off-campus.  

“It’s a different kind of event that I haven’t experienced before. I’m doing other things on campus, so I got to go somewhere else,” Whitlock said. 

It isn’t just student volunteers that enjoy these visits. 

According to Whitlock, the most rewarding part of Adopt a Grandparent was observing the smiles on the residents’ faces around her. 

“I like to see what kind of enthusiasm they have and how they look at the world in new and different ways — outside the box. It always feels good to meet with and be with people with that kind of strength in politics,” said Oliver Larkin, Healthcare Center resident and former professor at UNI and Hawkeye Community College. 

Larkin was open to share information on Parkinson’s disease and his experience with it, which is what brought him to the Cedar Falls Healthcare Center. As an educator, he says that he enjoys sharing this information with students. 

“It’s a very difficult disease to have and very difficult for caregivers to live with it. It takes a lot of patience for everyone to live with each other,” Larkin said. “To add to that, Parkinson’s is difficult, and it’s not the same for any two people. Everybody has something different about them.”

Knuth discussed the unique experience that volunteers are able to gain from interacting with the residents at the Cedar Falls Healthcare Center. The reason for  their stay here ranges from temporary rehabilitation from illness, surgery or stroke to permanent living assistance for less dependent individuals. The wide range in the status of health among the residents offers a variety in interests and abilities.

“So there is a large range of residents that will be there, which can be kind of uncomfortable, especially if you’re someone that is uncomfortable talking to the elderly, let alone someone that is going to ask you the same question five times in a row,” Knuth said.

Monday was the last Adopt a Grandparent event for the spring semester. The program’s times vary from semester-to-semester, but St. Stephen will continue the program in the fall. 

“It’s anyone that wants to come. It’s not like you have to go to church here to go with us,” Knuth said.

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