Community-Based Work-Study Program Maintains Connections with Retirement Community

January 20, 2021

Jane Hobson '22

Two people seated in front of a computer at a retirement community.
While Kendal at Oberlin is not currently allowing outside guests to physically enter the retirement community, Oberlin's Community-Based Work-Study Program found a way to connect with residents online via Zoom.
Photo credit: Zach Christy

For Oberlin students who receive federal work-study awards, the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research offers special opportunities to connect with the community. One such opportunity is teaching classes at the local retirement community, Kendal at Oberlin.

The pandemic hasn’t prevented Oberlin College’s Community-Based Work-Study Program from working with Kendal residents. While Kendal is not currently allowing outside guests to physically enter the community, the student workers found a way to connect with residents online via Zoom.

Michele Tartisano-Amato, the director of creative arts therapy at Kendal, acts as a liaison to all of the student workers. She explains that many students felt apprehensive about the future of the program at the start of the semester. 

“When COVID-19 happened, our work-study students were saying, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t come in anymore. How are we going to do the program, and how are we going to earn our work study hours?’ We quickly met on a Zoom call and began the discussion about converting to a virtual platform.”

While transitioning to a virtual platform was challenging at first, it eventually opened new doors to the outside community. At the beginning of the semester, the student group held weekly meetings to troubleshoot technology problems. They also offered technology classes for Kendal residents. When things began to run smoothly for the residents at Kendal, Tartisano-Amato decided to expand the program and open up the online classes to other retirement communities.

In addition to adjusting to changes during the semester, the student workers managed to offer an extensive amount of classes and events to Kendal residents during the semester. They taught classes in Spanish, German, food science, musical theater, yoga, and events in world news, as well as hosted a spelling bee club and various musical performances. 

Alissa Leon seated in front of a window.
First-year Alissa Leon. Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

First-year Alissa Leon became involved with the Bonner Center for the first time this fall and taught yoga and meditation at Kendal.

“When I was looking for service opportunities, the online Bonner Center service was extremely helpful. I realized I could fulfill my federal work study and community service requirements within the same organization. When I saw Kendal was looking for members to create programs, I just sent an email and hoped they would take me on—and they did!”

Golara Malaki portrait.
Third-year Golara Malaki. Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Golara Malaki, a third-year, is passionate about issues related to accessibility for the elderly. During their second year at Oberlin, they began training to volunteer at Kendal and teaching a course on food science.

“To be a part of a lifelong learning community is a tremendous honor,” Malaki says. “No matter an individual's age or skill level, there's always more to learn about the world.”

Ashton Doll seated in a theater.

First-year Ashton Doll taught a discussion-based class on modern musicals. “We'd watch one act of a musical and then discuss it. We'd talk about the importance of various scenes, the implications of a certain action or line of dialogue, and how the play related to our own lives. Teaching in a relatively low-stakes environment is really great for one's self-confidence. Doing this made me feel like I was a little more integrated into the Oberlin community, despite COVID and Zoom lectures.” Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Tartisano-Amato is proud of what the student workers have accomplished this semester and looks forward to working with them in the future.

“One of my interests is mentoring students to become the future leaders in my field and getting them excited about working with older folks. I’ve been so pleased with the quality of the students’ work this year. It’s just been amazing.”

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