Western University students living with seniors at a London retirement home say the unique living arrangement has helped them in ways the students did not anticipate.

Ivy Manouchehri is one of three upper-year students in the Don Wright Faculty of Music who moved into Oakcrossing Retirement Living last month to live rent-free in exchange for almost daily musical performances.

With a bachelor's, master's and education degree already on her resume, the 25-year-old Manouchehri has lived in a  lot of different places – but never with more than 120 seniors.

Western music students

Several Western University students are getting the chance to live rent-free at Oakcrossing Retirement Living this fall in exchange for their time. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"I like it here so much I might never leave," she said. "The residents get to be brought into our lives … and the young people get these mentors, these grandparent figures to connect with."

Manouchehri, who plays the flute and piano, has only ever taken part in highly competitive music recitals and graded performances for school.

"I've always had a lot of performance anxiety playing in front of other people [so] it's been very healthy and really fun and a good way to reintroduce me to a much less stressful performance environment, a relaxing environment," she said.  "It's giving me confidence and it's allowing me the freedom to make some mistakes."

For Kristal Daniels, 26, the experience has not only opened her eyes to the importance of intergenerational relationships but has also helped the international student save a bundle.

"When it really comes down to it, can [I] afford to go back to school? If going to back to school, [my] stress is on the finances and not the focus on [my] studies then there's zero worth in going back," said Daniels, who is originally from New Jersey but heard about the program while on exchange in Europe.

"It's a blessing in disguise."

Oakcrossing students

Several Western University students are getting the chance to live rent-free at a London retirement home in exchange for their time - and they're loving it. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

'Not for everyone'

The student live-in program requires both Manouchehri and Daniels to volunteer 10 to 12 hours of their time every week practicing musical instruments or vocals through impromptu recitals in common areas of the retirement home.

The three students are working on organizing scheduled recitals and creating an open music club that allows seniors to play a role in the performances as well.

Daniels admits her living situation isn't ideal for most students in their 20s.

"It's not for everyone … but we are gifted with the interactions seniors give us," she said. "The elderly are the frame work of any given community. They have so much to offer that you want to engage with them."

She said living in the retirement home has allowed her to focus on her studies and honing her musical talents.

Oakcrossing students

Several Western University students practicing in one the common areas in Oakcrossing Retirement Living. Three Music students are getting the chance to live rent-free at the London retirement home in exchange for their time. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

'Win-win situation'

Carol Bradley, the executive director of Oakcrossing, said many people were drawn to the trio's first scheduled recital at an open house earlier this fall. 

"Residents didn't have this before. I think it's the spontaneity of it all. There are planned programs but it's hearing the music and seeing the reactions of the residents," said Bradley, who described the program as a win-win for both seniors and students.

"It gives the residents a little bit more meaning to their lives and they love it."

She said the students will move into a new retirement home being built next to the existing home in west London later this month.

The program – which was inspired by a model in Cleveland, Ohio – is pegged as a first in Canada and will continue into future years.