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Assisted living homes nurture and care for an incredibly precious measure of our population. With the residents of Summit Place, you can find a wealth of heart, wisdom, and knowledge. These folks also share their space with Generations Early Learning and Family Center, located on the lower floor of the building. Each and every day, the time these two groups spend together is a priceless gift only found here, highlighting the value of connection between varying generations. Summit Place Executive Director Jozef Bosman, Life Enrichment Coordinator Fred Kamperman, and Generations Program Manager Roseve Winchell sat down with WhatcomTalk to reflect on the affiliation of their organizations and the significance of intergenerational relationships at Summit Place.

“These relationships are really important for us and we’re very lucky to have Generations downstairs,” says Kamperman. “They have four different classes and come up and visit with our residents.”

Generations Early Learning and Family Center kids put on parades for the elderly residents of Summit Place. Photo courtesy Summit Place

Maintaining a close bond between the two groups with pandemic restrictions in place has been somewhat difficult and disheartening — but not impossible. “Pre-COVID, it was on a closer basis, and they could sit down and read a book to the kids, but now it’s a little more difficult, so we had to get creative,” Kamperman says. “Some of these children don’t have grandparents and we have grandparents that don’t get to see their grandchildren. There’s a lot to be learned from either side of these demographics that they can share with each other. Our residents love the children, and the children love coming up.”

Despite pandemic setbacks, Summit Place residents and the Generations kids find beautiful ways to continue their communications, such as putting on costume parades and creating chalk drawings where residents can see them.

“In the dining rooms, we’ve made it possible for the residents and the children to draw with erasable markers on the windows,” says Bosman. “They draw flowers, or they play tic-tac-toe, and they play counting games. It’s still interactive and the residents love it. They’ll draw a flower, and the kids might draw a petal in a certain color, then the residents will draw the next one. They make murals and we leave them up for a few days before wiping them off for the next drawings.”

Generations kids hope to be able to spend time with residents of Summit Place in-person again soon. Photo courtesy Summit Place

The residents of Summit Place are a special part of the Generations kids’ daily routines. “It really is a beautiful relationship between the young and the old,” says Winchell. “As the director says, it ‘feeds two birds with one seed’. We’re meeting the needs of community and it gives the residents a purpose throughout their day. Even if we’re just walking through the hallways, sometimes we’ll see residents sitting there and you can tell how much the kids brighten their day by just being present.”

The relationship between Summit Place and Generations Learning Center is just as meaningful and important as the understanding between residents and their younger-generation caregivers at the assisted living facility. “We really take the time to focus on our residents’ mentality,” Kamperman says. “We talk about who we can help personally or if someone is feeling a little down and they need a little extra love. We do what we call ‘alerts’ just to make sure they don’t fall into a funk.”

Summit Place residents often help Generations kids prepare for special day celebrations. Photo courtesy Summit Place

Employees are in constant communication about their residents’ needs and preferences throughout their stay. “Our employees do online training that focuses on items such as how to relate to individuals and your elders with respect and compassion,” says Bosman. “We have daily meetings with our crew where we discuss those items and talk about if someone isn’t having the best day, or if someone is having a difficult time, how we can make it better. We help them focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do.”

Most of the caregivers are a part of a younger generation and they make it a priority to be sensitive to the unique particulars an older generation resident might prefer. “Finding out how someone wants something to be done, like how they want someone to make their bed or fold their laundry, is essential,” Bosman says. “Even with a shower, it’s respectful to ask everyone how they would like the process to go beforehand. The important thing is to ask, listen, see how it is they would like it, and then follow up.”

Technological proficiency is a particularly common generational divide, and the younger-generation caregivers often lend their assistance to the residents. “Our residents are constantly asking for help with their technology and a lot of our caregivers are in their mid-twenties, so they can figure it out for the residents pronto with the upmost respect,” says Bosman. “I think a lot of it has to do with speed. We have to take a step back and explain a few things.”

From Generations kids to their caregivers, Summit Place residents have a unique and cherished relationship with the people they see every day. Photo courtesy Summit Place

There are many variables when caring for another human being, no matter their age, and in the end, it’s about respect and compassion. “Even though a lot of our residents are older, we don’t dumb things down,” Bosman says. “It’s disrespectful and they’re still really young at heart. They get along so well with our caregivers and some of them are really great jokesters — they’re very quick-witted. We tell our caregivers to treat them with respect, because we are here to serve them and make sure they’re having the best life possible.”

Intergenerational connection is a golden opportunity to grow in kindness and empathy on both sides of the coin. The close intergenerational relationships between caregivers and residents at Summit Place and the playful, warmhearted relationship the residents have with their downstairs neighbors, the Generations Early Learning and Family Center, illustrates the core values of Summit Place and the joyful environment fostered there every day.

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