Local nursing home resident wearing a flower crown gifted by a Baker College human services student.
When a staff member from a local nursing home expressed her concern for her residents and the loneliness they were experiencing due to Covid restrictions, she was concerned and so was I. We know that there has been an increase in depression among nursing home residents. How could we help? Thus, the Elder Pal project was created.
Human Services students at Baker College who were taking the Family Dynamics class this past spring were paired with elder “pals” from a nursing home for the Elder Pal project. The students spent the entire semester writing letters and Facetiming with their pals.This experience showed the students just how much they are needed.
The program was a mutually beneficial and rewarding experience for the Elder Pals and our Baker College Human Service students. Not only were the students able to apply concepts from Family Dynamics that they were learning in class, but they were able to bring joy to their “pals” during this difficult time in our country. This project was able to lift spirits and bring smiles to all who participated. The students were able to communicate to the elders that they are not alone and that we care. These are true attributes of what human services professionals do every day and our students were able to experience this first hand. They learned how to be patient, flexible, and persistent; they were also able to ask important questions, to understand generational differences and to learn about differences in families.
While we know that the elder generation is one of our most vulnerable populations and we are trying to protect them during this pandemic, we also know that they are hurting and exceptionally lonely. This project was not just a “feel good” project or a class assignment, this was a way for our students to show our elders just how much each of them is valued and how much one generation needs the other.
On behalf of Older Americans Month, we celebrate the resilience, strength, support and inspiration of our Elders. Below are just a few pictures of the Elder Pals that our students got to interact with over the last semester.
Local nursing home residents displaying their penpal letters from Baker College human resources students.
Dr. Kristina Marshall is the Director of Human Services Programs for Baker College. She is the chair of the Owosso DEI Chapter and serves on the System Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. In 2015, she received the prestigious Instructor of the Year award. In 2011, she was selected as the Employee of the Quarter award and 2010 Most Animated Employee Award.
Additionally, Marshall is a national speaker and consultant, focusing on cultural competency and how to address the needs of diverse populations. Marshall speaks from personal, classroom and consulting experience; her work has focused on building communities and helping to support inclusive classrooms and workplaces. She believes we can counterbalance systems of oppression and how they work when we understand and can identify social injustice and inequality.