1 Year, 5 Stories

What a Western University student learned from living in a retirement home

Kristal Daniels, a graduate music student at Western University, spent the last year living with roommates old enough to be her grandparents. And she says she'll do it again.

Kristal Daniels spent the past year living rent-free at Oakcrossing Retirement Living

Ivy Manouchehri, left, and Kristal Daniels, right, are two of three Western University students who lived rent-free at Oakcrossing Retirement Living this past school year. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

This week marks one year since CBC London opened as a station. We thank you for your support.

To mark the anniversary, we are revisiting five stories that had an impact on the community — and on our reporters and staff.

Here is one of those stories.

Graduate music student Kristal Daniels spent the last year living alongside roommates old enough to be her grandparents. And, she says she'll do it again.

"It's an awesome place, and I'm blessed to be there," said Daniels, who will move back into her room at London's Oakcrossing Retirement Living in July.

Daniels first moved in last fall, alongside two other students from Western University's faculty of music. The deal was that she and her fellow students got a free place to live, in exchange for spending between 10 and 12 hours a week performing for residents.

Oakcrossing also provided three free meals a week, with the hope that the students would sit and visit with their neighbours as they ate.

Those shared mealtimes quickly became a highlight for Daniels.

"I ended up making friends. So on occasional weeks I could be found more than three times [a week], drinking coffee while everybody's eating. [I would] be sharing their company," she said.

The first year of the project was so successful that peopleCare Communities, which owns Oakcrossing, hopes to implement a similar program at an upcoming retirement home in Kitchener-Waterloo.

"The music, the rapport between the different generations, it's truly become part of our home," said Carol Bradley, executive director of Oakcrossing. 

What you learn living in a retirement home

Daniels said performing for Oakcrossing residents has helped her remember her love of music. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

As a graduate student, Daniels said she can feel ambivalent about her choice of profession, and often has a 'love-hate' relationship with music. Living at Oakcrossing and seeing residents respond to her performances helps her rediscover the joy in what she does.

Sometimes the residents will sit and listen, other times they may even practice a bit of ballroom dancing.

"They become touched by it. They listen to a melody and they're thrown back into a moment of nostalgia, or memory of time with their partner," said Daniels. "And that right there kind of just rekindles the fire within me."

Although Daniels is still in her twenties, she said living with her elders has also helped her prepare for her own retirement years. She said she's made notes to save for her later years, and to maintain close family relationships.

Her roommates have also taught her to worry less about what people think.

They like you for your eccentricities and whatnot. It's like full acceptance.- Kristal Daniels

"I'm worried about doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, being misinterpreted when I'm with younger people," she said, adding that residents at Oakcrossing have a more laissez-faire attitude.

"They like you for your eccentricities and whatnot. It's like full acceptance."

This live-and-let-live attitude helps when she has moments of doubt about her chosen career. Working as a musician can be an unstable way to make a living, and Daniels said she often worries about what the future holds.

"The information I get from them is it doesn't matter what other people think of what you're doing," she said.

"As long as you're happy doing what you love then the reward will eventually pay out, but the immediate reward is that you don't become unhappy for trying to fit into someone else's shell of what you should be."