When Gene Brand was researching where he wanted to spend his retirement years three years ago, his love of music led him to move from New York City to Cleveland.
“I am a great lover of music,” says Brand, 87. He was sold on Cleveland, and more specifically, the Judson Manor independent living community. This was after reading an article in The New York Times about the various visual arts and music offerings available to Judson Manor residents.
In the short time he has called Judson Manor home, Brand has become the chair of its Musical Arts Committee. Among the group’s duties is to select students from the nearby Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) to participate in Judson Manor’s Artists-in-Residence program.
The partnership between Judson Manor and CIM began in 2010, when the housing facility’s board of directors realized that not only did it have a few open apartments, it also sought a way to differentiate itself from competing senior living communities. With CIM’s proximity in mind, a collaboration with the school was “easy to develop,” says Lin Bartel, Judson Manor’s recently retired director of residence life.
In exchange for free room and board at one of Judson’s three senior living communities in Cleveland, selected CIM students are expected to immerse themselves with the older residents and practice their instruments in various public spaces in the facilities. The older residents enjoy the interaction and are enthused by the recitals the students perform at each of Judson’s three facilities every semester.
Sharing Experience Brings Joy
Nina Kiken, 26, a CIM doctoral student in viola, is in her first year of a two-year commitment to the multigenerational program. She says she enjoys her living situation because Judson’s older residents are “accomplished people who had big careers. It is interesting to talk to them about their lives.”
David Gilson, CIM’s associate dean for student affairs, says the older residents “delight in seeing young students every day. They enjoy the performances and establish relationships with them.
“Judson is a smart living environment,” Gilson adds. For example, tenants include retired professional musicians, so CIM students living there benefit from learning from the experienced musicmakers while the older residents relish in sharing their expertise.
Or Re’em, an Israeli working on a master’s degree in piano performance at CIM, is in his second year of the program. “It was very natural to move here because I have had interactions with many retirees and older people. I was very connected to my grandparents. My mom is a geriatric nurse and I used to accompany her on house visits,” he says.
Another Connection Through Music
While the CIM-Judson Manor collaboration isn’t the only successful multigenerational living program in the Midwest, it was the impetus for a similar partnership: Drake University in Des Moines and the Deerfield Retirement Community in nearby Urbandale, Iowa.
The partnership between Deerfield and Drake’s music department began in 2016 as a way to break down the stereotypes older people often have of college students and vice versa, says James Robinson, Deerfield’s executive director.
Deerfield’s interest in such a partnership began when the facility’s former executive director contacted Robinson after watching a CBS Sunday Morning story about the CIM-Judson Manor program, says Clarence Padilla, the former head of Drake’s music department and a supporter of the collaboration. Like Judson Manor, Drake students receive free room and board for living at Deerfield and participating in its Artist-in-Residence program.
Deerfield benefits from the program because it “injects life and youthful energy into the facility,” Robinson says. The joy the program brings to residents was evident when Drake University student Alice Lind, Deerfield’s first Artist-in-Residence, performed her senior recital at Drake. Lind, 21, is a senior who studies vocal performance. Three busloads of Deerfield residents were in the audience, joyfully clapping and celebrating her performance, Robinson says.
“I love it. I wish more retirement communities and colleges would do this because it brings so many positives for everyone,” Lind says. “The residents get to experience the younger perspective of life while the student gets to make friends with people they wouldn’t otherwise.”
One of the Oldest Partnerships in the U.S.
Multigenerational partnerships between colleges and senior living facilities are not relegated to involvement by music students. In 1984, the University of Southern California (USC) partnered with Kingsley Manor, an independent- and assisted living facility in Los Angeles so students studying gerontology could live there. In exchange for free room and board at Kingsley Manor, students must provide 16 hours of service to its residents weekly.
The USC-Kingsley Manor collaboration is among the nation’s oldest multigenerational living partnerships. The college students participating don’t have to be from USC, but most are. Both students and the older residents “mutually benefit” from the program, says Kingsley Manor’s Executive Director Shaun Rushforth. He says the older residents’ lives are enriched by social interaction with the college students. “They check in on each other.”
Also, the college students gain first-hand experience assisting the older residents. “It’s one thing to work with the elderly, but another to live with them,” Rushforth says, adding that the Kingsley Manor staff also see rewards. “The staff benefits from having students live here because they keep us updated about the residents. Sometimes, it just takes a neighbor to notice some things,” says Rushforth, who lived at Kingsley Manor for two years as an undergrad, then graduate student at USC.
As a student, he was surprised how often residents confided in him and knows that happens with today’s participants, too. Sometimes, residents are more willing to share information with students than staff, who “will take action.”
Chaowen He, known as “Pete” at Kingsley Manor, is a Chinese national studying gerontology at USC. Upon earning his graduate degree this May, he intends to return to China to use his knowledge to “attract and deliver senior housing” there.
He enjoys assisting them with technology, marveling at how much residents relish their newly-acquired knowledge. His technological assistance, which includes teaching about YouTube, email and how to use an iPad, has proven so useful that one resident even offered to adopt him, he says, laughing. He also leads residents in morning exercises and organized a China Spring Festival in early February.
(The RetirementLiving website has a list of other colleges and universities with college-linked retirement communities.)
By Tami Kamin Meyer
Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and freelance writer. She also is marketing chair for the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Her website is www.tamikaminmeyer.com