‘Young at Heart’ program builds connections between students, local nursing home residents

Alex Kerns

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Growing old can be difficult for those who do not have family to care for them, but UK students are attempting to ease the pain with “Young at Heart.”

The program, which launched in 2010 and is a part of UK’s Center of Community Outreach, allows students to adopt a grandparent at a nursing home in the Lexington area.

Spaces for adoption are limited because of the program’s small budget. This year 20 students were able to participate. To become a participant, individuals are required to attend a one-hour training course, and complete a background check.

Once the training is completed, the student meets their adoptive grandparent. During their first encounter, a member of the Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency accompanies the pair to make sure they are acquainted. Once the pair is comfortable with one another, they are able to do several activities such as attend holiday parties and play Bingo.

The students can be paired with residents at any nursing home in the Lexington area. Some are paired with homes extremely close to the university, while others choose homes that are closer to their work or houses. 

Young at Heart Program Director Matthew Whisman said he has had a great experience with the residents of nursing homes and his own adoptive grandparents. He recalls a man he met last semester who was a veteran of two wars, and was grateful to have visitors. 

“I spent about 30 minutes speaking with him and it was just nice to see him laughing and smiling around the holidays because he had mentioned that he hadn’t had many visitors,” Whisman said.

The grandparents are not the only ones that benefit from Young at Heart.  The students involved in the program also get the chance to become close with someone from a different generation and hear stories about different times, according to Whisman.

One member of the program, finance sophomore Eileen Ramirez, said she enjoys the time she spends with her adoptive grandmother. They met for the first time two weeks ago, and have already bonded over conversations about the grandmother’s life experiences.

Ramirez said being a part of Young at Heart allows her to learn from someone who is much wiser than her, and that she hopes she will be able to give her adopted grandmother as much as she has already given her. With Ramirez’s biological grandparents living quite a distance away, Ramirez said her adoptive grandmother means a great deal to her.

“Both my grandparents live in Mexico, so I don’t get to talk to them very often. It’s very nice being able to talk to someone who has experienced much more and is much wiser than myself,” Ramirez said.

Young at Heart hopes to continue to increase their presence on campus and add 20 more members next year.  To reach Young at Heart, email [email protected] or go online at ukcco.org/programs/young-at-heart/