Twenty-two-year-old Kari Grindberg has been spending the summer as a resident of Fair Haven East, an independent living building at Hearthstone, a WesleyLife retirement community in Pella, IA.
A recent graduate of Central College in Pella, where she earned a biology degree, she applied to live in the community as part of a pilot project that Hearthstone initiated with the college. It’s one of a growing number of such projects around the country designed to bring together senior living residents and younger adults for short or extended periods of time.
“We know that regular and consistent interaction with young people not only enhances the lives of older adults but may actually help them live longer,” Hearthstone Executive Director, Nancy Hamilton said. “With the encouragement of our CEO, Rob Kretzinger, who has a vision for intergenerational experiences in senior living, we wanted to pilot this project as something beneficial for our residents as well as for a student who wanted an immersive opportunity.”
Grindberg said she first learned about the opportunity in a campus email.
“I had never heard of something like that, and I knew I’d love to see what it was all about,” she said. “I loved the time I used to spend with my grandparents, and I really enjoy being around older people.”
In return for room, board, meals and the use of community amenities for the summer, Grindberg has been expected to interact with residents and give presentations to residents on topics of her choice twice a month, said Dot Beason, independent living director for Hearthstone. In her presentations so far, Grindberg has led a sing-a-long, made homemade salsa with residents and shared information about Austrian culture.
Grindberg is gone much of the day taking classes and getting ready to sit for the Medical College Admission Test in preparation for medical school, she told Iowa Public Radio. She enjoys coffee with the residents in the morning and other meals, however, she said.
“Through those meals, I’ve gotten to know and meet and just talk to so many different people, and they have all these interesting stories,” Grindberg told the radio network.
Additional informal interactions have come as she led an exercise class, plays games with residents on Mondays and Tuesdays, and builds puzzles with a fellow resident who shares her love of that activity.
Grindberg said soon she will begin a position as an activities coordinator at another Iowa senior living community. Between that future experience and her time at Fair Haven East, she may change her medical career focus from pediatrics to geriatrics, she added.
“Now I realize how much I enjoy working with this older generation,” Grindberg said.
In the meantime, in her new job, she plans to try to find ways to encourage intergenerational interactions.