Knox Students and Local Retirees Bridge Generation Gap

April 26, 2010

As her senior year drew near, Knox College student Sarah Kurian resolved to do more to help others, especially senior citizens. But she wasn't sure exactly how.

She sought guidance from the college's Center for Community Service and then launched Network Across Generations, a program that bridges the generation gap by bringing together Knox students and retirees living in Galesburg.

They gather regularly to chat, share meals and swap recipes. Occasionally, they arrange special events, such as a writing workshop led by Nicholas Regiacorte, a Knox College English professor.

One of the most popular activities is "game night," when students and senior citizens play cards, Yahtzee and other board games while munching on snacks. A recent "game night" drew a crowd of about 30.

The students, typically in their early 20s, and the senior citizens say everyone gains from the experience.

"It's really just fun -- talking to people and joking around," said Kurian, a biochemistry major and music minor from Elburn, Ill. "The students and the seniors always are glowing at the end of activities."

Network Across Generations has established an informal partnership with Mary Allen West Tower, a Galesburg apartment community for senior citizens and disabled persons. The program is a big hit among the residents.

"Sarah has taken the campus and brought it here to us," said Mary Donald, the facility's property manager. "It's just really reaching into the community and making Knox more a part of their lives."

Because of Network Across Generations, several Mary Allen West residents now closely follow the Knox College Prairie Fire teams in sports such as baseball and track, she said.

"The thing that I have found that is so neat about this program is not just what the students learn, but what the residents have learned from them," Donald added. "It's just an awesome interaction."

Some of the residents say they feel they've become surrogate grandparents to the Knox students, many of whom live far away from their actual grandparents.

"We really enjoy having the kids come over. They make us old people feel young," said Reba Lovan. "It's a good communication between the two generations."

Students play board games with senior citizens

"I think it's one of the nicest things that's ever been done," said Ruby Conces. "This is a wonderful group of kids. They're really interesting to talk to."

Conces mentioned Kurian as an example. She plans to become a doctor and was selected for the prestigious Knox-Rush Early Identification Program. The program guarantees qualified Knox undergraduates with admission to Rush Medical College in Chicago once they've earned a Knox degree.

Kurian said Network Across Generations has enabled her to develop closer relationships with senior citizens in the community and with some of her fellow students.

"I've gotten a community out of it," she said. "These are people who care about me and vice versa."

Kurian has been working with other participants in Network Across Generations to ensure the program keeps going even after she graduates from Knox.

Kathleen Ridlon, coordinator of the Center for Community Service, called Network Across Generations a success story.

"This is an excellent example of how students can use this center to develop ideas and leadership skills," Ridlon said. "The center provides a way for people to explore their ideas and then put them into action."

The Center for Community Service's Website offers tips for students who want to plan and execute a service project.

Kurian took her original idea about helping others, and then she ran with it, Ridlon said, adding: "This is her innovation -- and wouldn't have happened without her."