My husband’s grandmother, Grammie for short, lived most of her life in a suburb of Washington, DC. She is the longest serving crossing guard of the Alexandria police department. And if you ask her, she absolutely loved putting on the uniform and “working her corner”. She watched as generations of children went to school each morning, helping them to safely cross the road to Polk Elementary. She was there for 49 years, long enough for those children to grow up and have kids of their own.
A few years ago, she moved into an assisted living facility in North Carolina to be closer to family. As I unpacked the framed newspaper article about her career I thought about something my co-worker said, “don’t be surprised if she goes downhill quickly, that’s just what happens”. The entire time we were moving her belongings in Grammie kept repeating, “well, I guess this is where I have come to die.”
You see, Grammie hated spending time with “old people”. She had always surrounded herself with friends 20 or 30 years her junior. Their vibrancy, energy and zest for life kept her young. Now she was segregated to spending time with those “old people” she worked so hard to avoid. What if there is a different model for senior living, an intergenerational housing program that could capitalize on a symbiotic relationship between seniors and students? A Dutch nursing home has created something truly remarkable. In Deventer, Netherlands students live rent free within a senior living community. They help with small tasks, provide a connection to the outside world, and bring a tangible energy to the corridors. Students enjoy the quiet and lack of drama, while absorbing the wisdom of an older generation. Similar programs have been established in France, Ohio, and even New York City.
With college costs mounting and senior living populations climbing, could intergenerational housing offer a unique solution?