“This is pretty neat!” said Jim*, a 102-year-old World War II veteran, on his first-ever Zoom video call.
The online chat was facilitated by Cal State Fullerton students working with a nonprofit organization called Project L.I.F.E. (Living in Faith Everyday).
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, students in “Introduction to Gerontology” had been meeting in person with senior citizens one hour a week for 10 weeks as part of a service-learning program designed to strengthen intergenerational understanding and relieve loneliness between both age groups. More than 100 students have participated in the program to date.
Amid the pandemic, the program has transitioned to virtual sessions for the safety of all participants.
“Can you imagine this? Can you see me?” said the awestruck veteran into the computer screen. Following his service flying fighter bombers in the war, Jim went to college, pursued a career as an aeronautical engineer and raised a family. He got involved with Project L.I.F.E. several years ago, along with his wife who has since passed away.
“It’s a corny saying, but it gave me a new lease on life. I can’t believe how much fun and enlightenment these ‘youngsters’ have given me,” said Jim.
Taylor Farrell, a psychology major, is one of the students who was paired with Jim in fall 2019.
“At first, it was daunting to meet with someone who has so many life stories and experiences while starting my first year of college,” she said. “But after our first meeting, I was fully committed to the program and looked forward to each visit.
“Jim shared countless stories and experiences and discussed what he has learned throughout his lifetime as a pilot in World War II, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather,” shared Farrell. “Far too many people fear death and living an unfulfilled life, but his wisdom and positivity helped me understand that leading a ‘meaningful life’ is distinctive for everyone.”
Students who participate in the program complete a background check, two hours of training and an interview with Project L.I.F.E. directors. Meetings, which are led by a facilitator, cover such topics as school, career goals, healthy habits, positive thinking and other life lessons; sharing faith beliefs is optional.
CSUF gerontology graduate student Elena* ’16 (B.A. psychology) joined the program as an undergraduate student and now serves as its assistant director.
“It was the best risk I have ever taken,” she said. “I was somewhat fearful of older adults due to not growing up with grandparents and avoided conversations with them due to unfamiliarity with that population.”
Casting her fears aside, Elena began visiting with Jim and his wife.
“Jim was always joyful and full of energy. He was always talkative and ready to discuss some article he read in the weekly newspaper,” she recalled. When Jim’s wife died, Elena was invited to attend the funeral.
“I learned the meaning of grieving,” said Elena. “The following months I kept visiting Jim and became great friends with him. We still talk on the phone today, and I drop in for a visit whenever I can.
“He is still very active in Project L.I.F.E. and looks forward to new students every semester.”
Elena, who plans to graduate in spring 2021, hopes to use her education in gerontology to create and expand community-based programs for older adults.
“The most valuable way to give to others is to give the gift of time,” she reflected. “It is in that selfless giving that you receive the most valuable and priceless experiences.”
To learn more or get involved with Project L.I.F.E., email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Lynn Juliano, email@example.com