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Bridging generations

Loyola pairs up with Oak Crest for valuable life lessons

Created date

June 21st, 2011

If there is any truth behind the Chinese proverb a single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study then a handful of students at Loyola University are wise beyond their years. This spring, 11 social psychology students from Loyola paired up with men and women at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., as part of a semester-long service learning program. Together the teams discussed course material dealing with sensitive topics like romantic relationships, sexual orientation, racism, and women s issues. The end goal: to develop an appreciation for generational differences. I believe that young people can benefit tremendously by learning from their elders and gaining an appreciation for values and attitudes forged in times past, says Dr. Charles LoPresto, associate professor of psychology at Loyola. The program, now in its third year, requires students to meet weekly for two hours with their partners, keeping notes about their partners beliefs, history, and thoughts on the topics discussed. At the end of the course, the students provide a written biography to their teammates. If the students had any stereotypes when they started the program, they were quickly shattered after getting to know their partners, says LoPresto. They were surprised at how open-minded this generation is. I think they were also blown away at how similar Oak Crest looks to a college campus.

Common ground

Oak Crest resident Robert (Bob) McKeever and his partner, Loyola sophomore Megan Toth, hit it off almost immediately during the spring 2010 semester. We discovered we share a common interest in digital photography and photo editing which helped break the ice, Bob says. The two met weekly at various locations, including Bob s home, The Acorn restaurant at Oak Crest, the community s on-site lake, and even once volunteered together at a Feed the Hungry event. We helped make 800 peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless, Bob adds. In the beginning, Bob admits he walked gingerly until he got to know a little more about Megan s own values and beliefs. From the get-go she told me to just talk about whatever I wanted, he says. But I soon learned that she was subtly guiding me to disclose who I was and my life s challenges and values. So in a way, by learning her values, she also learned mine. Surprisingly, we never really disagreed on any of the topics. Jack Orth says the Loyola service learning project was the highlight of everything he s been involved in since he and his wife moved to Oak Crest from Harford County a year ago. It was a wonderful experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat, he says. Jack was paired with a freshman named Lauren. I have college-aged grandkids and am a big advocate of bringing together the generations, he says. I thought it would be really interesting to hear what an 18-year-old thinks about my generation in contrast to their own. We didn t agree on everything. But in the end it turned out to be really interesting and informative, and one thing we both agreed was that it was a great learning experience.

Staying in touch

A number of the students and residents have kept in touch since the program ended. Jack and his wife plan to visit with Lauren this June while she s down from her home in New York on summer break. I hope she ll look at me as someone she can turn to as a mentor and grandfather figure while she s attending college here in Maryland, he says. Bob says what began as a volunteer experience for him has grown legs. Last fall, Megan invited him to an arts and crafts show at Loyola where she was selling her photography. And although Megan is now studying abroad at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the two keep in touch online through Facebook, and Bob also follows her blog. He says he hopes to have a chance to visit over the summer when she returns to Baltimore. She is truly a remarkable, talented young lady with a bright future ahead of her, he says. For me this whole experience is just another example of how intergenerational relationships are part of the Erickson Living landscape.