Students and seniors forge friendship and learning at Gateway Lodge

Magazine Fall 2019

UNBC students experienced life in a residential care facility.

Dr. Shannon Freeman and Prof. Dawn Hemingway
Dr. Shannon Freeman (left) and Professor Dawn Hemingway are leading the Intergenerational Activities for Growth and Engagement project.

Intergenerational friendships bloomed when a special project brought UNBC students and seniors together under the same roof.

Students spent a semester living in Northern Health’s Gateway Lodge, a residential care facility in Prince George, interacting with and learning from the lodge’s residents.

Led by UNBC’s Dr. Shannon Freeman and Prof. Dawn Hemingway, the Intergenerational Activities for Growth and Engagement (InterAGE) project is a unique research partnership between UNBC and Northern Health.

“The initial pilot with the students and residents exceeded all our expectations,” explained Freeman, a School of Nursing Assistant Professor. “The UNBC special topics course, taught on-site at Gateway Lodge, challenged the students to be reflective and to see aging not only through their own eyes but through the eyes of the residents they ended up developing close connections with.”

The success of the pilot led to its continuation for the current school year. During the semester, one or two students are provided with accommodation at the lodge, living in areas not allocated for resident use, and they receive several complimentary meal tickets per month. During a typical week, students spend 10 to 15 hours meeting up with residents and enjoying activities together such as bocce ball, knitting, playing crib or dominoes, and sharing stories.

“Most surprising for me was the amount of social energy that most residents had, even those who at first appeared quiet and reserved. It didn’t take much for them to open up,” noted Zachary Fleck, an International Studies student who participated in the project. The residents absolutely loved to tell their life stories and relate their experiences to me. And I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my stories with them.

“I think young people make unique conversational catalysts in this way. There is something exciting about relating stories across intergenerational divides for all involved. The more opportunity we give young people to have these experiences, the more they would see the value in intergenerational interactions.”

As part of the project, students were assigned several resident “buddies” with whom they sought to connect regularly. However, their intermingling throughout the facility led to many other meaningful connections as well.

“The experience all around has been very positive and is a reminder that older adults have as much life experience and expertise to share with young people as students have to share with seniors,” said Hemingway. “The research component was also critical and will allow us to move forward with further co-housing initiatives knowing we’re on solid footing.”

The InterAGE research project is one of the first of its kind in B.C., and in fact the country, to compile evidence-based results on intergenerational living.