UGenerations tries to bridge generation gap through service projects for elderly

Posted September 19, 2013


UM students now have even more volunteer opportunities, thanks to a new club on campus.

“UGenerations is a … service organization that was created with the goal of improving the health and quality of life of the elderly in the Miami area. We hope to accomplish this by bringing together different generations through service projects and events that will simultaneously help to bring awareness to the issues that are affecting [today’s] geriatric age group,” said Caroline Williams, who co-founded the club with Gabriela Lins.

Lins and Williams recognize that there is a disconnect between individuals of the college-aged generation and their elders, and they hope that this club can help bridge this gap.

The club had its first meeting on a Thursday just after the semester began.

Lins opened the gathering by saying that according to the Administration on Aging (AoA), a part of the federal Department of Health & Human Services, it expects that by the year 2030, about 19 percent of the U.S. population will be made up of people who are 65 years or older.

As a comparison, in 2009, the last year for which the AoA has information, the 65+ population made up 12.9 percent of the country’s total population.

“This statistic beckons that, as students, we become more aware of geriatric issues and the impact that these issues will have on our society,” Lins stated regarding the rising elderly population.

Both co-founders also have personal reasons for starting the club.  Each has a grandparent who lives far away; Lins and Williams share the wish that people who live near their own grandparents would do the same for them, spending time with them and keeping them company.

“UGenerations for me was a response to the question, ‘Wouldn’t I want someone to be there for my grandmother like I will be there for those in the Miami community?’  Of course, the answer is yes,” Williams said. “I would like to give to those here what I would give to my own grandmother: as much happiness and support as they deserve, and a listening ear for all the wisdom they have to offer.”

Lins spoke about how the elderly age group can be neglected.  She brought up the topic of euthanasia and how some people believe that this is an effective way to deal with the aging population.

“I think it is important to fight for the rights of this generation and not enact euthanasia policies that could be abused and cause unwanted harm to the elderly in this country,” Lins said.

She believes that instead of euthanasia, we need to approach and work on issues such as geriatric conditions and diseases.

Lins’ grandmother played a pivotal role in her life, Lins said. She was raised by a single mother.

“My grandmother filled the gap that my father left behind when my parents divorced,” she said.  “My grandmother passed away four years ago and I still fill that loss today. I hope to give back to the elders in my community and learn all that they have to offer me.”

UGenerations will give members the chance to do just that.

Club members will be able to volunteer as much as they like.  Each week, there will be multiple opportunities for students to visit local nursing homes and interact with the residents there. There will also be special events, like music and art therapy workshops.

Transportation will be provided.

The club’s founders are working on getting guest speakers to come to UM.  Speakers might talk to students about issues in the elderly community, while other speakers might discuss their experiences during a certain time period, like the Holocaust or the Great Depression. Some sort of pen pal program is in the works, which would allow students to be paired up with senior citizens with whom to correspond.

Volunteering chair coordinators will record how many hours of volunteering each member does. At the end of the year, UGenerations will give members formal letters documenting this information.

Lins and Williams are open to suggestions for events and activities, especially since UGenerations is just starting.

During the meeting, members introduced themselves and explained why they wanted to participate.  What the co-founders weren’t expecting was how in-depth and heartfelt the responses were.

Kimberly Nguyen said that the group would help her a great deal.

“I never really got to know my grandparents that well since they live on the other side of the world, so I think this club will somewhat make up for it,” she explained.

One member even broke down while talking about her grandparents.  Athina Yoham’s grandmother had a stroke and her grandfather died within the same year, leaving the rest of her family to take care of her grandma.

“It really hurts to see someone go from completely independent to totally dependent,” she said about her grandmother.  “Every time I look at an older person I just get reminded of my grandparents.  I picture my grandparents and it makes me happy.”

In the middle of speaking, Yoham became upset, and she touched those listening to her with her emotional story.

Reflecting on this, Lins said, “It was exhilarating being in the company of so many enthusiastic and compassionate individuals.  It was also amazing to see how everyone had a personal story with the elderly loved ones in their lives and the impact they have had on them.”

The group members reaffirmed to her how important starting this organization was, and she believes that our elders have much to teach us.

“By bridging the gap now, we will build a stronger future for our university, our community, and our society,” she said.

The club’s faculty advisor is Dr. Richard Simpson, an English professor.  He is away for the semester at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

UGenerations will be holding meetings at 8 p.m. every other Thursday, at a location that will be announced via e-mail. Those interested can contact either of the co-founders at (Caroline Williams) or (Gabriela Lins) for additional information.

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