Social work professor and AHDP director Marilyn Wakefield goes over program activities and administrative tasks with senior staffers, Shannon Danish, Coleen Santa Ana and Adrienne Williams.
Students help area senior adults get health-minded
Jo, a spry woman in bright-blue jogging pants, sends a volleyball sailing over the net. She wears a pair of flowered gloves because she says the ball hurts her hands. As teammates and spectators cheer over the Salsa music coming from a corner of the recreation room, Jo's opponents scramble for the ball.
Nine Saturday mornings each semester, JMU students and community adults (55 and older) pair up in Godwin Hall to participate in the university's Adult Health and Development Program. The outreach program provides the adults, called participants, companionship and health benefits, while giving health and human services students, called staffers, hands-on social work experience.
Social work professor Marilyn Wakefield, who directs the intergenerational program, says, "AHPD is an individualized program designed to meet participants' physical fitness and health knowledge needs. The program also allows us to educate students about the process of aging, to train them to apply health and well-being theory, to reduce age stereotypes, to promote community and to teach them about the history and cultures of the Shenandoah Valley through interaction with area adults."
JMU's AHDP activities include craft and art sessions, country line dancing, ballroom dancing, guest speakers, scavenger hunts, make-your-own-rules volleyball, strength exercises and yoga.
Health science professor Dave Cockley and Wakefield started JMU's program in 1999 after training with the University of Maryland and its model 27-year-old program. There are 20 programs nationwide. JMU's program began with 10 staffers and five participants. Today, the program has grown to five senior staffers, 20 staffers and 16 community participants, ranging in age from 59 to 78.
Senior staffer Coleen Santa Ana was one of the first students involved in the program. For senior staffers there is less emphasis on the one-on-one interaction and more focus on administrative tasks. Senior staffers help coordinate and supervise weekly activities and have more influence in designing each semester's overall program.
"The progress of the program is dependent upon the passion of the students," says Santa Ana. "Our program has grown immensely each semester, faster than many other similar programs across the country."
Senior Melissa Honig, who has been involved in AHDP for four semesters, agrees. "The number of participants has nearly doubled in less than a year. Although some members participate in only one program, others come back every semester. I've made some lasting friendships."
"AHDP bridges the gap between JMU students and the Harrisonburg community," says sophomore Amy Loflin. "We disprove age stereotypes each week, both from the staffers' and participants' viewpoints."
The program emphasizes developing a relationship between students and participants, Wakefield says. "The students and adults work and learn together. The students are there to encourage participants to get into a healthy mindset," she says. "It's a mutual relationship - not one-directional."
Paul, a special-needs adult, arrives one Saturday morning and everyone greets him cheerfully. He wanders around the recreation room and cuts right through the middle of a volleyball game. Realizing what he's done, he erupts into hearty giggles and soon his in-fectious laugh spreads. Sophomore staffer Jeremy Bosdell, says, "I love making Paul laugh. It feels really good to know that he enjoys the program."
Loflin says working with Paul has disproved her personal misconceptions about disabilities. "He is an amazing man," she says. "I have a better understanding and respect now for people with disabilities, and I've learned more about myself."
The planned activities for this particular Saturday in-clude volleyball, scavenger hunts and a guest speaker. But Paul is more interested in playing with a plastic bowling set in the hallway. "You're going to make me work hard today, aren't you?" Bosdell asks Paul.
Paul knocks down all of the pins and gives Bosdell an enthusiastic high-five. But
he soon loses interest in the brightly colored pins and begins asking about lunch.
"Working with Paul has required more supervision, energy and patience," Loflin says. "His attention span isn't as long as other participants', so we've had to be more flexible with planned activities."
Students in the program must attend regular Saturday sessions, lead one supervised activity, keep in weekly contact with their participants and write two papers. The first is a brief history of the student's partner participant, and the second is an assessment of the skills that the student uses during weekly interactions with each participant.
Since AHDP is relatively new, there are still some kinks to fix, Honig says, including "some campus parking situations, which have confused some participants. And early Saturday morning sessions are challenging to some students."
"Waking up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning can be difficult," explains Santa Ana, "but once I'm in class and the day begins, I have no regrets."
Wakefield says it is interesting to see how relationships between those in the program change during the semester.
"Not every staffer and participant become friends, but many do," Wakefield explains. "They view each other as partners. When a participant arrives for a Saturday session, they immediatley start looking for their student partner. They are protective of that relationship; there's a real sense of 'we're in this together.'"
Besides the friendship bonds, students also gain an appreciation for everyday capabilities that many people take for granted.
Santa Ana says the most important aspect of the program is the "community outreach and interaction with the adults. It is an opportunity to break down barriers between generations. I now know the incredible difference we can make by sharing ourselves with each other."
Read more about the Adult Health Development Program <www.jmu.edu/socwork/ahdp /descrip.htm>.
By Kristen Petro ('01)