Jurrien Mentink is your average 20-something. He studies hard, enjoys spending time with friends and he lives in a nursing home.
Okay, so maybe he’s not so average.
Mentink is one of six college students who live among elderly neighbors at Humanitas, a long-term care facility in the Netherlands. He’s part of a program at the Dutch nursing home that offers college students rent-free housing in exchange for 30 hours of their quality time every month. They also help with chores and small maintenance.
“We want to be the best and warmest nursing home in Deventer,” explained Gea Sijpkes, the director of Humanitas Retirement Home, “so that’s why we started a project of housing students, and we ask them just to be a good neighbor.”
For Mentink, that means giving computer lessons, cooking, teaching them social media and skype, and sometimes, just “hanging out” with his elderly neighbors. Other activities include watching sports, celebrating birthdays, playing games and bringing a sense of comfort when elderly residents are sick.
“I bring the outside in, so my world becomes their world,” Mentink explains. “So things I learn in college, I try to tell that story to my neighbor so they can keep up a little bit.”
The company of students is breathing new life into the nursing home, and Sijpikes believes the students get as much out of the program as the seniors.
“Young people in the house are giving them a new spirit… It’s a lot of things they offer each other, and little things of everyday life,” said Sijpkes.
The overall goal is to reduce some of the unfavorable side effects of aging and senior living, through human interaction. Having the college students in-house and dedicating their time helps to keep everyone’s feelings of loneliness to a minimum.
Since the program got its start three years ago, the idea has spread across the globe with a now similar arrangement available for Art students in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mentink, who is still a student and works full-time at Humanitas, says, “They can teach you a lot and you know them by person and not by a group of elderly people.”