Good Works

Why This 21-Year-Old Loves Living In A Retirement Home

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When 21-year-old college student Haley Jenkins roams the halls of her residence building after 7 p.m., she doesn’t hear raucous parties or loud music. “Deerfield goes to sleep at 7 p.m.!” Jenkins told The Huffington Post. “It gets quiet.”

No, Deerfield isn’t a residence hall on Drake University’s campus in Iowa. It’s a retirement community located just around 10 miles down the road. Jenkins chose to become a resident of the community thanks to a pilot artist-in-residence program. The whole opportunity has given Jenkins a whole new meaning for senior year.

The music major was selected for the program thanks to her incredible singing chops and her willingness to mingle with the older crowd. For the entire semester, Jenkins will put on two performances a month in exchange for free housing.

LISA RYAN/LIFESPACE
Jenkins’ room in the Deerfield community. 

“I don’t have any grandparents anymore so it was kind of a big opportunity to finally have a million grandparents!” Jenkins said. “I haven’t had a grandmother for most of my life, so I’ve really bonded with some of the women. For me to have that sharing time and learning and filling that intergenerational gap, is something I’ve always wanted.”

And the seniors are just as delighted to have a youngster around. The residents are eager to have dinner with her and even knock back a drink — or a few— with her at the bar.

“My preconceived notion was that old people can’t have fun,” Jenkins said. “That they sit around and do very cliche things like knitting or cards … but their jokes and humor are so vibrant and present. They’re old but they’re not dead! They’re still kickin’ it and they do have fun.”

Jenkins says she relishes her time with the seniors, fulfilling what she calls her inner “old soul” and learning from their wisdom. Spending time with them has shattered her stereotypes but she says it’s a two-way street.

LISA RYAN/LIFESPACE
Jenkin’s hugs a Deerfield resident. 

“I’m changing their outlook, too. The other day, a lady said to me, ‘I appreciate you not being on your phone!’ I always make a point not to bring my phone with me to dinner,” she said.

It’s just the kind of intergenerational bonding that the university and the residence had in mind when they started the program. Jenkins, who graduates at the end of this year, says the center is trying to determine if they’ll keep her around for the fall semester or introduce a new student.

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