The State of Iowa will be touting a new living arrangement for retirement communities when the Governor's Conference on Aging meets in Des Moines this May. It centers on a 21 year old college student who moved into an Urbandale senior living residence this winter.
Music major Haley Jenkins moved into her new apartment at the Deerfield Retirement Community in early January. She gets free accommodations in exchange for regular live performances. A typical neighbor could be four times her age. Lisa Ryan is with Deerfield's parent company, Lifespace Communities.
"We didn't want somebody who frankly only wanted free room and board. We wanted to see friendships, I mean real friendships. You don't have to be friends with only people your age, and I think they have enriched her and she has enriched them."
After nearly two months Jenkins is fitting in nicely. The Drake University senior calls her neighbors, "fellow seniors."
"I try to remember all first names because I've met so many people, so Joe is all the way down on the corner here and Tweeza is another neighbor of mine and she was so sweet, when we moved in she wrote me a little card and slipped it under my door and said whenever you want to catch dinner or need anything, like grandparents."
After this performance, residents Don Moon, Betty Durden and Paul Joslin lined up to voice their approval.
"It's a big deal to have somebody with that level of talent in our midst is a real treat for us." "I think it keeps us young. It's like having our own grandchild here." "When I'm around young people there's times when I don't feel older at all."
Inter-generational living can promote successful aging, and even longer life, according to Deerfield's Lisa Ryan.
"It's not a new concept. When I was young it was not unusual for families to have grandparents living with them. Even though we wanted to be on the forefront of what we think is probably going to be the wave of the future for senior living, it also harkens back to a simpler time."
State officials hope the concept catches on and will promote it at a national conference convening in Des Moines later this year. Donna Harvey is Director of the Department of Aging.
"We want to go out to Deerfield ourselves and say what did you learn, what worked, what didn't work, do you want to continue to do this? And then start talking to others about would you be willing to consider adopting this as a new philosophy and approach?"
For Jenkins, she dines with her neighbors, recently went out for drinks with a new friend, and is even writing her own blog about the experience. It has changed her life.
"I do not have any grandparents, reluctantly, but I have some now. Not everyone could do it. It's a little challenging to be away from Drake and away from your friends but I think it's a challenge and it's an opportunity that I’m really getting into and really loving."
After graduation Jenkins wants to continue singing and connecting with older Americans; discussions have already started to prolong her stay past the current semester. In Urbandale, I'm Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.