At Friendship Village, the dining hall is a place for seniors to relax and chat with their friends. But for the past few months, a handful of seniors had dinner with unlikely guests—Western Michigan University students. The Resilience Project pairs seniors with WMU Seita Scholars—college students who have aged out of foster care—and Kalamazoo Promise students for a cross-generational experience.
Judy Savoy is the resident services director of Friendship Village and the facilitator for The Resilience Project.
“When I was reading the paper, I noticed that a lot of students were having a hard time, once they got into school with the [Kalamazoo] Promise, staying. That they were faced with a lot of other difficulties,” Savoy says. “And I thought, ‘What can we do for those kids?’ And I started thinking about the fact that our biggest resource are our residents.”
Every two weeks each pair ate together and talked about their lives. They also wrote journal entries about the experience. And at the end of the program, they created a work of art that represented their relationship. WMU student Maurice Washington talks about the art piece he made with senior Dave McShane using photos of their hands.
“I thought it was pretty neat because he has white hands and I have black hands and that was a big part of it,” Washington says. “We were just telling a story about…it started out with drama and conflict. Like he’s sort of smashing my hand or pushing it away or something like that. And as it went on, we start to settle our differences. And we had handshakes and things that represent peace.”
Washington and McShane come from different backgrounds and grew up in very different times. But McShane says, after talking with Washington, he really started to see young people in a different light.
“I make a sad public confession now that, when I came into this program, I though most of the young people we would meet would kind of be another version of Jersey Shore,” McShane says. “And man, was I wrong! Absolutely, totally, 100 percent wrong. I’m convinced that that’s pushed at us and it’s a gross anomaly, this is not what’s going on in the world.”
“I always pictured seniors being more reserved, like conservative,” says Western student Cristina Bryant.
Barbara Jones is Bryant’s senior partner in the program.
”She’s funny," Bryant says. "She understands modern times. Like if you talk to her about transgender people or gay people, she would totally talk to you about it. She wouldn’t be like ‘Oh, that’s so disguting.’She’s completely open to that kind of stuff. And when people make negative comments, either racial or anything like that, she doesn’t agree with it. She’s like ‘No, you have to be open to new experiences in life.”
Savoy says The Resilience Project is not a mentorship program. She wanted the seniors to get as much out of the experience as the students. Bryant says even though Jones is older, she treated her like an equal.
“She did do psychology and I’m a psychology major. And she helps me with that. She does tell me what happened to her. Kind of like directing me, ‘Oh you should do this, you should do that.’ But that’s what happened. But this is what happened with me, kind of giving me like ‘Oh watch what I did.”
Savoy says, in the end, almost every student who volunteered for the program enrolled in school the next semester or graduated. But Washington and McShane say the most important thing is that they found they had more similarities than differences.
You can see the art pieces the seniors and students made together at Friendship Village through the end of October.