Unique Programs and Staff Bring Generations Together

The large variety of unique and interesting programs and activities makes United’s communities a good fit for the active older adult. One of those programs brings together students from Mount Royal University’s English program and the residents at United’s Garrison Green community in a writing program that shares the residents’ stories and experiences.

Monica Schmidt with resident Mary Fenwick in the writers-in-residence program

Monica Schmidt with resident Mary Fenwick in the writers-in-residence program

“In September 2015, Mount Royal introduced a pilot program with United that paired English students with United residents,” said Monica Schmidt, a graduate of the English program. “That really appealed to me.” So much so that Monica has stayed connected to residents through several other programs and has made the career decision to join United as a program development coordinator.

The pilot program was called Writers-in-Residence, and over the course of that first semester she and the other program volunteers worked with residents on telling their life stories. The program was so successful that it has carried on each year. This semester, Monica remains involved with this partnership as a mentor to the English students currently involved.

Monica and her mom Mary Lynn Schmidt

Monica and her mom Mary Lynn Schmidt

While volunteering with the writing program, Monica also worked with her mother, Mary Lynn Schmidt, who restarted the choral program at Garrison Green.

In the summer of 2016, Monica and another Mount Royal student, Erika Bloedorn, began offering a bi-weekly writing program to residents where residents share their writing and collaborate on writing projects. Today, Monica and Erika work with residents in the program, guiding discussions and inspiring connections between residents.

“The residents have such a large variety of experiences; some that even their family and friends haven’t heard,” said Monica. “We get them thinking about those experiences and provide the space and encouragement for them to put those thoughts to paper. What is especially interesting to me is that even as each person is undoubtedly unique, there are struggles and triumphs that we all share. From being the wallflower at a school dance to times spent marvelling over a winter sunrise, our human experience is more alike than it is different. In many ways, sharing stories – both verbally and in writing effectively dissolves the time and distance between generations.”

Monica says that working full time with the people she has come to know and respect over the last two years is an amazing opportunity. “Witnessing first-hand the many ways that residents engage creatively – whether through trying out new artistic techniques or honing lifelong skills, writing inspired works or singing in the choir – is life-affirming and inspiring. The residents here are proof positive that age is simply not a factor in creative endeavour. People of all ages can be curious and engaged and interested in exploring ideas and this, as I see it, is a fantastic jumping off point to foster deeper and more meaningful connections.”

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