Non-profit bridges gap between students and seniors

Southeast Seniors aims to create friendships and counter misinformation

Julia Turnbow, left, and Mary Alice Kopf, right, converse over pizza and soup at Mary's home in Minneapolis on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

Easton Green

Julia Turnbow, left, and Mary Alice Kopf, right, converse over pizza and soup at Mary’s home in Minneapolis on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

Eliana Schreiber

While a college student and a senior citizen might seem like an unlikely duo, a local nonprofit is working to develop rapport between the two demographics.

The group, Southeast Seniors, matches University of Minnesota students with seniors in area neighborhoods.

The program began as part of a University service learning class taught by a professor who lived in a nearby neighborhood, said Lydia McAnerney, Southeast Seniors volunteer coordinator.

“I wanted to expand that opportunity for students to get to know people in the community,” McAnerney said.

Originally, the program paired students with seniors in the Prospect Park , but this year the program expanded to include seniors in Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes, she said.

McAnerney said she noticed that older residents sometimes resent students who live in their neighborhood, or vice versa, and the program lets them get to know each another on a more personal level, in turn working to discredit common myths about students and seniors.

“There are a lot of myths about seniors,” she said. “Our world is going to be full of seniors and older people, and we better make sure that everybody understands their needs.”

Former history professor Ted Farmer got involved with Southeast Seniors last year. After retiring in 2010, he missed connecting with students, he said.

Farmer, who lives in Prospect Park, said he likes to show students the neighborhood and tell them about Minneapolis’ history.

This year, Farmer is paired with freshman Evan Boening, and said he sees a lot of similarities across generational lines.

He said they talk about current events such as the recent presidential election and compare today’s protests with civil rights and anti-war protests of earlier decades.

Undeclared first-year student Julia Turnbow started visiting with Prospect Park resident Mary Ellis at the start of this school year. She said she likes having a guide for the area.

Turnbow said she visits Ellis once a week, and they try to get out and participate in community events.

The program gave Turnbow stability and means to learn about the off-campus area, which was especially important given the challenges of adapting to the state as a first year, out-of-state student.

Turnbow said the program lets her have a friendship with an older person that she otherwise wouldn’t have. She said having conservative grandparents, she was surprised to meet a liberal senior when she joined the program.

“I think you get out of it what you put into it,” she said. “But this program kind of provides a framework to build that relationship.”