EDSS students making connections with long-term care residents
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EDSS students making connections with long-term care residents

EDSS students Caroline Cannon and Emily Morden visit with residents of Barnswallow Place Apr. 29 during the launch of a new program to bring together seniors and high school students. [Bill Atwood]

Students from Elmira District Secondary School paid a visit to residents at Barnswallow Place, bearing gift baskets last week in a kickoff event for a new partnership between the long-term care home and the high school.

Barnswallow Place executive director Catherine Schalk says staff and especially residents are excited about the launch of the new intergenerational program that will facilitate regular interaction between the residents and EDSS students.

Schalk says more events are planned such as breakfasts, group discussions about current events and one-on-one visiting for the spring and fall, in anticipation the home will be able to host the students indoors.

Rukhsana Popat, a social worker at Barnswallow Place and a leader of the intergenerational program, says staff and the facility’s family council have been trying to connect with the high school for about two years.  

“It was something that I always thought that I would like to do is to bridge that gap between the young and the old,” Popat said.

“Both groups would benefit because the young can learn so much from our older generation – their perspective on life and the wisdom and life experiences and everything that they’ve been through.

“The younger people keep us current as we get older; you see life through their eyes.”

The residents in the home are very excited, said Popat, adding that one of the residents who had worked as a music teacher is already requesting to be paired with a student who plays music.

The breakthrough to make contact with the school and get the project off the ground came when one student at the high school, Tyler Brezynski, decided to write some conversation-starter letters for residents at Barnswallow Place for his leadership class. The class was encouraged to explore opportunities for community engagement during the pandemic, Popat said.

She delivered Brezynski’s letters to some residents in the home, and they wrote back.

Since then, Brezynski has joined the family council at Barnswallow Place, and encouraged his leadership class teacher and other students to get involved with launching a pen pal program with the home. The gift basket exchange was the launch of the program. Students fundraised for the gift baskets themselves.

The Barnswallow staff members said that they are looking forward to seeing the positive impact this program will have on residents.

“So many of our residents are very fortunate,” said Popat. “They have families coming in on a regular basis. But I think the ones with families that are far away or families that are busy and are not able to come in, I think those are the residents that can really benefit from these relationships.”

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