Live-in La Roche students narrow the generation gap

When his friends at La Roche University pressed Ricardo Serrano Perez about his new living arrangements, they wondered what kind of deal he made to get free room and board.

Would he have to lift or bathe people? Might it be a little depressing?

“It’s been so much fun,” he said, describing his senior year living at Terrace Place at Vincentian in McCandless, where he is one of three La Roche students among the 21 Terrace Place residents who are old enough to be their grandparents or great-grandparents.

But there’s no lifting. Just uplift.

Some residents use walkers, but everyone lives independently. Each apartment has its own kitchen. Yet when Mr. Perez cooks every other week, his neighbors crowd into the community kitchen for meals that he makes, inspired by his grandmother in the Dominican Republic.

Terrace Place opened last April. When it was being planned, the Vincentian Collaborative System’s CEO Nick Vizzoca and COO Patty Embre discussed an idea that has been modeled in communities in the Netherlands for years — to integrate students with elders.

Vincentian’s partnership with La Roche is the first intergenerational living arrangement of this kind in the region, though it is part of a nascent trend in the country. Leading Age, the American Society on Aging and other elder advocacy organizations report a growing interest in solving several problems — social isolation, age-related stereotypes and student debt among them — with more arrangements like Vincentian’s.

About 15 students applied last year to live at Terrace Place for the 2019-20 school year. Of eight who were interviewed, Mr. Perez, Natasha Ngandwe, both seniors, and Jessica Hannes, a junior, were chosen. Ms. Embre said the hope next year is to house six students.

The deal is they get free room and board in exchange for six hours a week of programmed activities involving residents. Ms. Ngandwe leads a Zumba class twice a week. Ms. Hannes leads a book group. The students also help their elders become more tech savvy over appetizers and join them to watch movies and sports on TV.

“We learn from them, and they learn from us,” said Joan Lally, a retired nurse. “It’s nice to have young people around.”

“You end up doing things with residents more than six hours a week,” said Ms. Ngandwe. “We meet in the hallways. We talk after Zumba class.”

“We went to Pirates games,” said Mr. Perez. “We play board games and just talk. They ask questions and suggest things. I learn a lot just by listening.”

A student’s idea

A La Roche student was instrumental in the partnership with Terrace Place.

Jennifer Velette was finishing her senior year, majoring in interior design with a graduate thesis focused on social isolation in 2018.

“I wanted to design housing space for college students and those over 65,” she said. “Studies show those demographics are the most lonely.

“One of my professors suggested talking to them [at Vincentian], and we met several times to talk about programs that could work in intergenerational living — exercise, cooking, a maker space for crafting,” said Ms. Velette, who is now employed by Next Architecture in Downtown.

The building was designed by Ewing Cole Architects and built by PJ Dick to include the shared kitchen and rooms for activity that accommodate this kind of programming.

La Roche president Sister Candace Introcaso said the school is interested in establishing a lifelong learning center.

“In the not-too-distant future, I would love to see La Roche build an intergenerational living and learning facility that would house current students, retired faculty, staff and alumni, other retirees and be a model of how this concept can enhance life on campus for everyone.”

In the community kitchen one recent evening, Mr. Perez prepared what he said is known as Greek rice in the Dominican Republic. It includes fried bacon, white and green onions, lemons and seasonings.

“My grandmother used to make this on Sundays,” he told eight of his neighbors who sat around the kitchen counter. As he described each step in the process, they leaned in and asked questions.

They wanted to know if he was staying for spring break, what his living situation was before this and how long he has been at La Roche.

“Five years,” he said, “because I changed my major from math to accounting. So I’m a super senior.”

He said his Terrace Place apartment is bigger than an apartment he once shared with five other students.

“Now when I do my homework, I can do it in the quiet,” he said.

And, yes, he will be working over spring break, as a server at a nearby restaurant.

As everyone began eating, the kitchen became silent, then the reports began coming in: “ohh, ummm,” “so good,” “You can cook for me anytime.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Perez said. “But it’s not as good as my grandma makes.”

‘My crew’

Ms. Ngandwe has built “a special bond” with her half dozen Zumba regulars — “my crew,” she said. “I love how committed they are to exercising. They give me wisdom. They talk about what they have been through, their lives, their careers, and how things have changed. A few people here are veterans, and some were teachers.”

During one Zumba session, moving to Whitney Houston’s ’80s hit “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” she implored her crew, “Keep moving your legs! High arms! C’mon, don’t get lazy!”

When the group broke for a rest, Mary Ann Bober, a retired teacher, said, “We’re so lucky to have her. She does so much for us.”

“I try,” Ms. Ngandwe said, beaming.

“She does more than try,” said Joyce Kreuz, who worked in human resources in Ohio before retiring. “She’s been wonderful, keeping our creaky bones limber. We’ll be sorry to see her go.”

Ms. Ngandwe, a native of Zambia who grew up in Eastchester, N.Y., is a health sciences major who plans to attend medical school.

“I like living with people who are a little older,” she said. “I have their backs if they need me and I have more quiet time to study.

“I do things with my friends [peers] and I work two jobs, so I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. I am very happy here. This group is just as interested in having fun as young people are.”

see article at https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2020/03/01/Terrace-Place-Vincentian-LaRoche-University-intergenerational-living/stories/202002160022

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