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Generation Us: Volunteering with seniors builds friendships and confidence

Daily Progress, April 27, 2017 -- Picture this: a room filled with a dozen people, in lines and in step to the music. Since the room is at the Senior Center, it might not surprise you that the average participant is older than 60. What might surprise you is that one of these line dancers is a 20-year-old college student, having the time of her life, dancing with her adopted grandmother.

Line dancing is one of the many ways students involved with the Adopt-A-Grandparent program at the University of Virginia’s Madison House interact with seniors. The mission of the program, according to its website, is “to create meaningful, one-to-one relationships with seniors in the Charlottesville community that will improve the quality of life of participants, both seniors and volunteers.”
 
Students visit a variety of sites in Charlottesville, including JABA, the Mary Williams Community Center and Our Lady of Peace. They dedicate an hour or two each week to spending time with seniors, either one-on-one or in groups.
 
That these young people volunteer is not unusual; young people do. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2015 Report on Volunteering, 26.4 percent of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 and 18.4 percent of young people between 20 and 24 give their time to volunteer programs. Many schools require a certain number of hours of community service for graduation. The question is: Why work with seniors?
 
Amanda Tomlinson thinks she has the answer. A fourth-year UVa student double majoring in biology and history and preparing for medical school, Tomlinson still finds time to serve as one of the directors of the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, which currently has more than 200 volunteers and is the second-largest program at Madison House.
 
“A lot of students enjoy getting out of the UVa bubble,” said Tomlinson, who added that for students whose grandparents live far away, the program provides an opportunity to build a relationship with a senior — often one who may not have many family members or friends left. And many of the young people in this program end up in very close relationships with the seniors they meet. They exchange letters and postcards, play games — and dance.
 
Tomlinson recalls that the first time she and two other volunteers tried line dancing, they were all reluctant — and terrible at it. “Everyone was having so much fun that it was OK that we were terrible,” she laughed. “They were willing to teach us. We all left with wide smiles, just glowing because of how much fun we had.”
 
Clearly it isn’t just the seniors who benefit from the time together with these young people. “Seniors make an impact on the lives of the students,” Tomlinson pointed out. READ MORE...

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