September 11, 2007

Students Aid Local Elders

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Every Friday, they may be playing cards, scrabble or balloon volleyball with the elderly in the Ithaca community. The Cornell Elderly Partnership is an organization at Cornell that fosters friendships between the elderly and students as well as teaches students about the rewards of volunteering and the needs of an aging population.
Established over ten years ago, the organization has expanded to better fit the needs of the elderly in the community. There are approximately 30 undergraduate and graduate students who volunteer weekly at various homes such as Lakeside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Beechtree Care Center, formerly known as Reconstruction Home. Aside from the regular volunteers, however, there are about 100 people who are involved with CEP throughout the year.
A major goal for CEP is to change the reputation of the elderly population within the Ithaca community. Many elderly people are very active and yearn for attention that the members of CEP are able to provide.
According to Joran Sequeira ’09, co-president of CEP, “It is up to our generation to realize that the aged have given so much to a society we live in, and it is our turn to appreciate, respect and give back to them.”
During the weekly visits, the members of CEP hold a variety off activities that are both one-on-one as well as group activities that cater to the needs of the individual residents. CEP also arranges for numerous programs at the homes; they have previously brought groups like Cornell a cappella and dance groups and Therapy Thru Music to the homes.
“Different aspects of CEP appeal to the different members — this is one of the reasons why we’ve grown so much, because it’s so multifaceted,” said Amy McKlindon ’09, treasurer of CEP.
The group has also grown each year in accordance with the needs of the elderly in the community. In the last two years, the involvement in CEP was in the range of 15 to 20 volunteers. Due to increased publicity and the collaboration with other Cornell student groups, CEP has grown in many directions.
The organization, a part of the Cornell Public Service Center, also has a service-learning aspect that aims to tie volunteering with education. Each semester, professionals such as nurse practitioners, gerontologists and researchers are invited to speak to students about topics related to the elderly population. Last year, Prof. Elaine Wethington, human development and sociology, spoke to CEP regarding her research in the fields of aging and the increasing problem of social isolation among the elderly.
The students also learn many things from the residents.
“Hearing about many of the residents’ stories from the past gives us a sense of direction for our future by learning from them,” said Steve Gordon ’08, outreach coordinator.
The students in CEP have joined the organization for various reasons ranging from missing their grandparents to unwinding and relieving their stress at the end of a hectic week. The most common reason, however, is how rewarding and life-changing the experience can be for both the students as well as the residents.
“It’s amazing, the faces of the residents literally light up when we walk through the doors of Lakeside!” said Galina Tan ’09.
The organization’s goals of increasing social interaction among the elderly residents in order to help their mental and physical health, is another motivating factor for many of the volunteers.
“Volunteering with the elderly is not only important in order to improve the lives and health of current nursing home residents, but it is a public service that will have increasingly important implications as the geriatric population increases in the coming decades,” said Maddie Sterling ’08, co-president of CEP.
CEP has also contributed to the community in other ways. Last year, when there was a proposed closing of Lakeside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, CEP advocated and wrote letters to keep it open.
Some aspects of volunteering with the elderly have proven to be difficult at times, such as seeing the deterioration in some of the residents and witnessing death.
“One of my friends at Lakeside really wanted a nice watch. So after Thanksgiving break I brought one of mine from home for him but sadly found out that he had passed away,” Gordon said.
Over all, the students and board members of CEP agree that volunteering has its benefits.
“You can actually see the difference you’re making in people’s lives during the visits each week,” McKlindon said.