Dani Dykema – A Tribute to the Value of Community

When St. Mary’s University student Dani Dykema decided to spend a school year living and working with the residents of United’s Fish Creek community, she wasn’t sure what to expect. The experience is part of a program at United called Students-in-Residence. As the name suggests, students move into United’s two communities. The experience is so profound that many former students-in-residence have remained connected to United after their residence term has ended. Dani expects the same after May when her term ends. Despite the age difference the residents have accepted her with open arms and now she is reluctant to leave her new-found group of friends. This is her farewell note to residents:

Dani with friends June and Eric Selgensen

Dani with friends June and Eric Selgensen

When I tell people that I live in a retirement community, I often get a tilted head or confused expression in response. To most people, a student living amongst retired older adults would seem like an odd mix, but what I can’t impress enough is how amazing this experience has been for me.

Living as a student here at United’s Fish Creek community has not only been transformative but it’s also been very healing for me personally. During my six-month stay at United, I have nurtured many close relationships with my fellow residents on a daily basis, whether it be having breakfast together in the morning, watching movies at night, or facilitating my music program.

I have been able to foster these connections at a deeper level as I am very invested in my neighbour’s lives, as they are in mine. The residents affectionately refer to me as “the resident granddaughter” and that seems to sum up this whole experience. This is particularly meaningful for me because prior to living here I did not have this in my life.

There’s nothing quite like knowing you have over 80 people fully supporting you on your journey.

A few months ago, I had the unfortunate experience of breaking my leg in a skiing accident. How convenient was it that I happen to live in a community without stairs, handrails in the shower and wide enough doors for my wheelchair! When I came home from the surgery, I was initially quite worried that I would miss out on a lot going on in the community, but was soon proven wrong. I had residents visit me twice a day while I was recovering, bring me little goodies and provide lots of words of comfort.

Dani plays regularly for residents

Dani plays regularly for residents

These are the outcomes of being able to cultivate meaningful relationships with others. You end up with a group of people that truly care about each other, through the investment of energy and goodwill. This is ultimately what the Student-in-Residence program at United Active Living seeks to accomplish; bridging the gap between generations and enriching lives through mutual encouragement and support. The kindness and love shown to me by my neighbours has ultimately been a healing experience and I will cherish this for the rest of my life.

I love being a part of this community and having the opportunity to further develop the skills it takes to interact with others. This experience has allowed a merging of worlds that might not have otherwise happened.

Not only are the residents now an extension of my own family, but I will continue to stay connected with them as I move on. I want to extend a formal thank you to my fellow residents and the staff members for their support. Thank you for making me feel welcome and included. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and experience.

Love, Dani

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