Students Adopt Grandparents at Phoebe Allentown

Students from Muhlenberg College have partnered with the David A. Miller Personal Care Community at Phoebe Allentown in an intergenerational endeavor that’s brightening the lives of residents and students alike.

One Saturday a month during the spring and fall semesters, a group of students from Muhlenberg visit the Miller Community to spend a few hours with residents playing games, making crafts and jewelry, painting, or just talking with one another. They’re members of the Adopt a Grandparent Club at Muhlenberg. Aside from the monthly group visits, some of the students “adopt” one of the residents as a grandparent, taking time on their own to drop in and visit one-on-one.

“What I’ve seen is the students really relish and value the experience of being with the residents,” says Devon Frey, community life coordinator for the Miller Community. “They are engaging with residents who are anywhere from 70 to over 100 and they enjoy every one of them.”

The program is an entirely student-driven initiative—each semester the leader of the group contacts the Miller Community staff and arranges the visits for that semester. Community life staff gets residents involved and the students take it from there.

The timing is good too, says Frey, as on the weekends the building tends to quiet down. These monthly visits are something the residents look forward to. “They love the intergenerational benefit,” says Frey.

The students, too, benefit from the interaction, hearing stories from residents and forming valuable long term relationships. Emily Strickberger, who will enter her junior year at Muhlenberg in the fall, has been matched with Loretta Delabar at the Miller Community since her second semester as a freshman. She and Delabar formed an attachment early on, and now spend weekly visits together, chatting and catching up with each other. Students and residents can match themselves, or work with club officers to be matched.

Strickberger is studying occupational therapy at Muhlenberg before she moves onto Thomas Jefferson University for two years. She says she always had an interest in older adults, an interest that was cultivated during an internship at Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center. She shadowed physical and occupational therapists and got to know the residents on a personal level.

“I think it’s underestimated how much college students and younger people can learn from [the residents],” she reflects.

Strickberger is one of about half a dozen students who regularly visit the Miller Community, and she says it’s a consistent crowd. She has personally organized events like Wii Bowling matches and performances by Muhlenberg a cappella groups. Last semester, she organized a group of Miller residents together to visit Muhlenberg for a Shabbat dinner and services on campus.

This summer, Strickberger has been interviewing residents for an oral history project that she’ll present in the fall. She says she was inspired to pursue the project by all the stories residents tell her and the other students during visits, stories she feels it is important to preserve and share with others. The Adopt a Grandparent program is just another way that Strickberger and others of her generation are preserving the stories of older adults, and enriching the lives of both generations with new relationships.