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Students Assist With Camp for the Young at Heart

North Park University students partner with Little Brothers

CHICAGO (February 19, 2010) – “Flowers before bread,” may sound like an unusual take on the hierarchy of human needs, but for the Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly organization, the motto perfectly reflects its philosophy of caring for the aging.

What it means is that for those without family help as they age (which is almost half of Chicago’s elderly population), receiving the “special pleasures in life” can provide as much joy as receiving the basic necessities.

It’s a concept that makes North Park University’s partnership with the Little Brothers organization that much more meaningful. Each year, about 15 students in the University’s nursing program join the Chicago chapter of Little Brothers for a weeklong summer camp for the elderly. Each student is assigned to a participant, helping him or her to various activities that are similar to any other summer camp.

This year, the students will spend a Monday through Thursday at the camp, which will be held in Mundelein, Ill. On Friday, the students will do home visits and help Little Brothers prepare for the next week.

Although the students don’t provide medical care, frequently, the only previous experience they have had with the elderly is with frail patients in the hospital. But at the camp, “They get to experience the elderly as people and not as patients,” says nursing professor Trudy DeWaters.

Little Brothers works with Chicagoans 70 years of age and older who live alone and who are without meaningful social or family contacts. Chicago is also the headquarters for the national organization, which includes volunteer-supported nonprofits around the country.

As they outlive their circle of friends and family members, many senior citizens become isolated from the outside world, DeWaters observes. The medical problems, financial challenges, functional decline, and other issues compound their sense of isolation and loneliness. Sometimes the staff and volunteers with Little Brothers are the only ones to attend their funeral, she notes.

Once the elderly begin with Little Brothers, the organization continues with them until their death, says Christine Bertrand, intergenerational program coordinator. It facilitates home visits, celebrations throughout the year, and book and art clubs. Little Brothers also provides practical services, like running errands.

Students get credit for participating in the program for one summer, but many return to volunteer. “We have students come back over and over again,” says Bertrand, adding that it is not unusual for friendships to develop.

Many of the students also assist with the Christmas program. They raise funds to purchase gifts and then hold a “wrap” party before delivering the presents.

“The students love it,” DeWaters says of working with Little Brothers. “It’s one of the best programs we’ve ever done.”