Julie Rupenski, President of MedBest Recruiting, had the pleasure of interviewing Bettina Schuller, Lifelong Learning Coordinator for Westminster Shores Senior Living Community, St. Petersburg, Florida, about their innovative MentorUp Technology Program. MentorUp pairs Westminster Shores’ Seniors with Millennial college students for technology tutoring but found that working together, both generations learned so much more!
How did you come up with the idea of MentorUp?
Lifelong learning is at the heart of MentorUp. At Westminster Shores, we believe that the desire to learn does not stop at a certain age. As a result, in 2015, we created a collaboration between Westminster Shores, Eckerd College, & AARP. We knew our residents wanted to make use of today’s technology but needed assistance. At the same time, students at Eckerd College who were enrolled in Professor Tamar Shovali’s Service-Learning Class, needed service-learning hours so it made sense to bring the two together. Then, we found out that the professor’s co-worker was married to the head of the AARP in Florida. Having AARP participate in our program, helped promote and advertise MentorUp. They distributed a flyer to the wider community in addition to emailing their members in the Tampa area.
Exactly, how did the program work?
Professor Shovali’s Service-Learning Class was comprised of 15-20 young and tech-savvy students were required to earn service-learning hours within the community. We scheduled the program with convenience in mind…every Saturday for 7 weeks from 9:30 am – Noon. Volunteers from AARP joined the students, while my role was to take care of the organizational aspects of the program and made sure all was running smoothly. Each student was paired with a senior living resident one on one to assure quality time not just for the technical questions but also for the intergenerational aspect of this project.
How did you come to select Eckerd College?
In 2015, a Board Member of Westminster Shores who was affiliated with Eckerd College, talked about collaborating with them in some manner. Our Board Member felt that the students and our residents could benefit by getting to know each other. Plus, Eckerd was convenient. It’s in close proximity to our community.
What kinds of devices did seniors need help with?
All kinds. We told our residents and AARP members to bring their mobile devices with them. Most brought laptops, tablets, iPhones, iPads & Androids.
You mentioned intergenerational learning. Why do you feel that’s so important?
I’ve seen how Intergenerational learning has so much to offer to all those involved. When different generations work together, they both gain skills, values and knowledge. Plus, it’s a great way to dispel stereotypes and misnomers about the youth of today as well as the aging population.
Can you tell us about the intergenerational learning impact that MentorUp had on both students and seniors?
It had a very positive impact. While tutoring was going on, we noticed a social aspect emerging. Personal relationships started to develop between students and our residents. They became interested in each other’s lives. We witnessed prejudices and walls being dismantled. Students thought that our residents were cool and led interesting lives and our residents said they finally had hope for the future. Plus, they learned that tattoos and piercings did not define a young person’s character.
What were the results and benefits of MentorUp for Westminster Shores?
Our residents who had computers, tablets and smart phones and were not able to use them fully, finally received the hands-on and personal training they needed. They were thrilled to be able to take advantage of what technology has to offer. It’s become a very successful program and people ask me how to start this kind of program at their senior living community. In addition, many of our residents deliberately selected Westminster Shores because of this program! Unfortunately, intergenerational learning and collaboration are missing from most other retirement communities.
Did you share the MentorUp program with other senior living communities?
Actually, once we decided on initiating and facilitating the MentorUp program, word got out which was exciting for us. In fact, we were invited to present our innovative new program at the New Orleans National LeadingAge Conference in 2017. It was well attended and a great opportunity for us to share MentorUp with other retirement communities.
What was your own personal takeaway from MentorUp?
It fills my heart with joy when I think about the incredible endeavor that I played a role in. I feel like I’m doing something of value and making a difference.
What other multigenerational programs are you working on for the future?
- Intergenerational Discussion group with residents and students, including topics like gun violence, dating, living during the sixties, siblings, College life today etc.
- Friendship day; residents spend time at the college learning how students live and study nowadays;
- Individual tech help
- Class projects with professors; residents participate in classes
- Student initiated projects like:
- Beach Volleyball Presentation
- Growing up in Japan
- Hip Hop Presentation
- Growing up in Four Different Countries
- Ethnobotany in Peru and Bolivia
- Movie Afternoons with films across generations
- Anthropology of Happiness Analysis
- Sunday Brunch with Live Music by EC student
- Bocce Afternoons with EC students
- Generation Connection, a Saturday afternoon discussion group
- String theory at EC and Needle work meetings
- Mandala drawing group
MedBest is a national Executive Search Firm exclusive to the Senior Living Industry established in 2001. We recruit and acquire quality executive talent for all types of Senior Living facilities across the US including Assisted Living, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Independent Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing Homes.