Dream Chasers, an on-going service-learning program sponsored by the Office for Community Engaged Learning (OCEL) takes students to the Quality of Life Services nursing home to visit a resident and learn about their life.
Dream Chasers has been with Slippery Rock for 5 semesters and partners with Don’t Stop Dreaming, a non-profit organization affiliated with Quality of Life Services; a nursing home located in Grove City, Mercer and Chicora. Dream Chasers has a total of 31 students divided between the three nursing home locations; 10 students at Grove City, 12 at Chicora and nine at Mercer.
Students and the service leadership coordinator (SLC) visit Quality of Life Services for about five weeks. Students visit the home and get to know their resident for about an hour every week to learn more about their life and establish a connection.
Jianna Palladini, junior secondary education major with a minor in literature, is in her first semester of the program. She has a resident and is also shadowing to be a SLC next semester.
Palladini said that she entered the program with an open mind, knowing that she would be expected to establish a relationship with her resident.
“If a student has the time, energy and heart to commit themselves to a really special program, they will learn something they will take with them forever,” Palladini said. “They will build a lasting relationship. They will realize they are more than capable of joining Dream Chasers and making it an amazing experience for them and a resident.”
Students are assigned a resident that has similar interests to them based off required form with their application. The student then interviews their resident and notes summaries of life events and other interesting stories, which will then get sent to a legacy reporter who makes these memories into books for the residents.
Megan Thomas, junior English professional writing major with minors in literature and American politics, is in her second semester of being an SLC and began volunteering in the spring of 2018. Thomas said that when she was a student volunteer, her resident was practicing family law and that the pairing was great for her because she is a pre-law student who wants to pursue family law.
“That was a pretty awesome experience,” Thomas said. “Not only did I get to learn about his life in general, but I got to learn about my future career path from him.”
Jacqueline Routhier, sophomore early childhood special education major with an international concentration in Chinese and a minor in Asian Studies with a concentration in Chinese, has been as SLC for three semesters and a volunteer previously. The spring 2019 semester will be her last. When Routhier was a volunteer she was paired with a resident who participated in special education when she was in school. Routhier said that her resident helped her realize what she wanted to change in the field of special education.
“My resident was told that she couldn’t go to college because of her disabilities,” Routhier said. “Knowing that motivated me more in my field.”
Along with the students establishing a connection with their residents, they also look for dreams the residents may have. The non-profit, Don’t Stop Dreaming, gives the resident a chance to possibly achieve a dream that they have.
Thomas said that Dream Chasers likes to describe Don’t Stop Dreaming in similarity to the Make a Wish Foundation.
Students also engage in reflection sessions and are asked to look back on the question, “How does capturing the wisdom from the life stories of others empower us to write our own?”
“Students are learning from the mistakes the residents made in their past,” Thomas said. “The students are also taking away wisdom that the residents have and implementing it into their own lives.”
Routhier said that Dream Chasers is a chance to get a second grandparent if a student doesn’t have one or to add onto their already family. She is amazed at the connections happening between students and their resident.
“My first resident likes to say that I’m her adoptive daughter,” Routhier said. “She always tells me that I need to tell my mom that I have a new mom. When I go to Grove City and go in, she immediately says ‘that’s my baby!’ when she sees me.”
Thomas said that all of her grandparents passed away by the time she was 10 or 11 and that she never got to form a meaningful relationship with them.
“This program gave me the opportunity to develop a relationship like that,” Thomas said. “I think that’s an important aspect of inter-generational relationships.”
Routhier said that not many people think of nursing homes as homes, but that is where the residents live, and Dream Chasers is lucky to be invited into their space to talk with them.
“Forming these inter-generational relationships is really important,” Thomas said. “We are college students. We live on campus and are mostly surrounded by people our own age. We don’t necessarily get to interact with people of different age groups.”
Although Palladini has not attended many sessions at Quality of Life Services, she said that she is significantly happier after talking to her resident than when she entered it.
“It’s like a mini vacation from the world,” Palladini said. “It’s just you and the resident. It’s just happy.”
Thomas, Routhier and Palladini encourage students to visit their office located in Bailey 220 if there are any questions about or interest in Dream Chasers.
“Just sitting back and observing the students and their residents brings the biggest smile to my face,” Thomas said. “It’s so heartwarming to see the bonds they’re making, even the first time they meet.”