Barbara was a professional dancer in New Jersey. Doris worked in her family’s diner and makes a mean lemon meringue pie. Sylvia had wanted to go to college—but was denied admission because of her race—and instead moved to New York City, where she worked as a telephone operator for 30 years before retiring back home in Virginia.
Encouraging students to get to know older adults like these women is a key component of Longwood’s Leisure and Aging class, which is part of the therapeutic recreation program. This fall 10 volunteers in their 70s and 80s from Piedmont Senior Resources’ Farmville Friendship Café agreed to participate in the class, meeting several times with students to be interviewed, said Dr. Ann Bailey Yoelin, who has taught the class for the last nine years.
Over that time, Yoelin has seen the positive impact of the interaction between students and volunteers.
Once they meet the person and begin talking to them, their body language makes a complete shift. They are relaxed, smiling and engaged.Dr. Ann Bailey Yoelin Tweet This
“Before the students are partnered with an older adult, many of them report feeling nervous, and I often see uncertainty in their body language. But once they meet the person and begin talking to them, their body language makes a complete shift. They are relaxed, smiling and engaged. And the older adults mention they enjoy reminiscing about their childhood and sharing their life lessons with the younger generation.”
That definitely seemed to be the case for Sjory Traverso ’24 of Arlington, Virginia, and Sylvia Maxine Adamson, 80, the former New York City telephone operator who was raised in Buckingham County and now lives in Prince Edward. When they saw each other across the room at the students’ culminating activity with the volunteers, it was clear they had made a genuine connection over the course of the class.
Traverso easily recounted a bevy of details from Adamson’s life—like how she was denied admission to Longwood during segregation and how she took on the responsibility of raising one of her grandsons.
She gave me a lot of advice about saving money and staying with my education. She told me that I have time to reach my goals—don’t give up.Sjory Traverso ’24 Tweet This
“She gave me a lot of advice about saving money and staying with my education,” said Traverso, who wants to pursue a master’s degree in health care administration after graduating from Longwood. “She told me that I have time to reach my goals—don’t give up.”
The portion of the class that involves the older adults is called “With These Hands,” an idea of Yoelin’s that grew out of her early professional work with a retirement community in Richmond. “I make an effort for my students to engage in real-life experiences in the classroom, so I often bring in projects or activities I implemented when I was working in the retirement community.”
For “With These Hands,” each student writes a short biography of their volunteer and frames it along with a photo of the volunteer’s hands, then giftwraps the memento and presents it to their new friend at their last meeting together.
Blanche Brown, 77, of Farmville rewarded Jocelyn Price ’24 with a smile when she received her gift. Price, a therapeutic recreation major from Fredericksburg, Virginia, said Brown was the first person she’d ever met who canned vegetables and made preserves. Having a window into the diverse experiences of people who have lived so long “helps younger people learn how to age successfully,” said Price, who is considering a career working with older adults—a common path for certified therapeutic recreation specialists.
I was surprised to find it such a natural conversation—as if I was having it with a peer of my own. It’s very important to integrate different generations so that people can learn from each other.Jackson Holder ’24 Tweet This
“Approximately 28 percent of recreational therapists in the United States work primarily with older adults,” said Yoelin, adding that, even for students planning to work with a different population, the class is beneficial. “I encourage students to challenge some of the misconceptions they may have about aging, with the hope they can become advocates for themselves and those around them as they grow older.”
That message definitely came through to Jackson Holder ’24 of Hanover, Virginia, who also is majoring in therapeutic recreation.
“I would say the biggest takeaway from this class is the realization that the older and younger adult populations can interact comfortably and can actually benefit from it. I was surprised to find it such a natural conversation—as if I was having it with a peer of my own. It’s very important to integrate different generations so that people can learn from each other.”