I first heard about the Students in Residence program completely by accident. My cousin and I were walking around Winona in between apartment showings and happened upon this mansion.
We decided to do what anyone would do and go explore it.
When we got inside, Cheryl Krage, the Director of Assisted Living at Watkins Manor, asked us if we were there for the open house for student housing and offered to show us around. We’d happened to stop by at the exact time they were having an open house for the Students in Residence Program.
An Opportunity to Give, Learn & Grow
Cheryl explained the program as she showed us around, and I was absolutely in love with the idea.
Deciding to participate in the program was pretty much a no-brainer for me. I love helping others, listening to peoples’ stories, and volunteering. Being able to do all of those things on a daily basis was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
I spend my volunteer time eating meals with the residents, hosting a weekly knit and crochet group, going on outings with residents, and spending quality time with them. I enjoy being able to get closer with them and learn their stories. Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like volunteering so much as it feels like hanging out with some friends.
In a typical day, I chat with some residents before I head out to class. They like to hang out in the lobby of the building and will ask me how I am doing, how my classes are going, and ask me if I’m eating enough vegetables.
When I come back from work and class, I go to the dining hall and share a meal with some residents. We talk about all different kinds of things– what life was like for them growing up, how my studies are going, and share stories about our families. I truly value these interactions and learn so much from them.
Living at the Watkins manor has given me a chance to spend time learning from others and also allows for some personal growth. I’ve been able to address some of the cultural prejudice that people tend to have toward old people and have been reminded that aging is a wonderful and natural process.
The residents at Watkins have helped teach me that every day is a gift that should be appreciated and that we should be thankful for all that we are blessed enough to have. Being able to have the opportunity for all of this learning was a huge factor in my decision to move to Watkins. The fact that rent is only $400 a month with utilities included only made the offer more enticing.
Home Sweet Mansion
Living at Watkins has been an incredible experience so far. This is probably the only time that I will be able to tell other people that I am living in a mansion, so I take full advantage of that.
We have free reign of the mansion and can use rooms for study groups or activities with the residents. The architecture is absolutely beautiful, and I am still discovering new details in the design.
Another benefit to living at Watkins is the fact that I’ve made so many new friends. Through my knit and crochet group, going on outings, and eating meals with the residents I have gotten to know so many amazing people whom I would not have met otherwise.
Because I have become so close to these residents, volunteering with them doesn’t seem like a daunting task since it really is just an opportunity for me to enjoy the company of friends.
The residents will tell me all sorts of stories about what things were like while they were growing up and how things are similar and different today. They also give me all sorts of wisdom that they’ve gained throughout their years and remind me that we’re all human and put on this earth to do good things for the world.
Senior Citizens & School Children Are More Alike Than They Seem
This experience has also given me skills that I will use in my future career. I am currently in my first year at Winona state and am attending the School Counseling program in hopes of becoming an elementary school counselor after I graduate in the Spring 2021.
At first glance, it may seem like there isn’t a lot in common between the elderly and elementary schoolers, but there’s more than meets the eye.
Both groups have an amazing ability to see the world through a unique lens where they appreciate the beauty and the little things that the world has to offer. Both groups constantly remind me of how important it is to love and care for one another and help me to learn and grow personally and professionally.
I have learned how important it is to be patient, caring and kind. I have also learned that having a positive outlook can change your life and the lives of others around you. These skills will help me in my future, both in my career as a school counselor and in my personal life.
–Laura Jensen, ’21
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