'Like dorm life, but way better': These students are living with seniors and loving it
Oakcrossing Retirement Home is piloting the first initiative of this kind in Canada
by Abby Plener
After years of living in dormitories and sharing student apartments with multiple housemates, grad student Ivy Manouchehri was looking for a different kind of living experience.
"We spend so much of our lives in our university student bubble," she says. "To me, that's not growing as much as you could grow as a person."
She applied for a spot at Oakcrossing Retirement Home in London, Ont.
Twenty-six-year-old Ivy lives with two other fellow music students, and 62 seniors.
The new facility opened in the fall of 2017. Inspired by a similar model at an Ohio retirement home, students from Western University's Faculty of Music get to live in the home rent-free, in exchange for committing 12 hours per week to spending time with the seniors. The concept of having students and seniors live side-by-side was originally piloted in the Netherlands back in 2012, as a way to combat social isolation among seniors while addressing students' acute need for housing.
While most music students are constantly searching for rehearsal space on campus, the students at Oakcrossing have unfettered access to a grand piano right next to the dining area.
In between classes, readings and rehearsals, the students are taking requests from their senior neighbours for what to play next.
Often, when the students are rehearsing, 87-year-old Jeanette Corcoran pulls her chair out into the hallways so she can listen. When she decided to seek out retirement living, the music program is what attracted her to this community.
I love to listen to them. It makes me feel younger, talking to them.- Jeanette Corcoran, resident of Oakcrossing Retirement Home
She even convinced Kristal to join her church choir, in which she still sings on a weekly basis.
Jeanette had hoped to move into the retirement home with her husband, but after a nerve hit his spine, he's been confined a hospital bed while she waits for him to get into a nursing home. She visits him in the hospital almost daily.
Ivy herself is getting married this summer. She's heartened by the residents' love stories and their long-lasting commitment to their partners.
"It's certainly made me look at things through a longer lens."
"A program like this is valuable because it breaks the barrier that is stereotyping age and ability," she says.
She hopes more students in the future will benefit from multi-generational housing arrangements like these, and dreams of bringing the idea back to her home state of New Jersey.
"The downside to a program like this is that we're here on loan. Every student is on borrowed time. Already there's this kind of bittersweet (feeling). Of the friends I do make, we will part."
But she promises she'll keep in touch.
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About the producer
This documentary was edited by Tom Howell, and made through the Doc Project Mentorship Program.