A residence for the elderly in Quebec has been housing two students from Laval University since the start of the school year. The arrival of Jeanne and Alicia among people who are sometimes five times their age has breathed an air of spring into the Jardins Saint-Sacrement, which hopes that this wind of freshness will blow elsewhere in Quebec.
The contract is simple: the residence offers Alicia Verrelli and Jeanne Huard accommodation, meals, Internet and public transport during the university year in exchange for ten hours of volunteer work per week. At the dawn of their twenties, they therefore live their life as students among 65 roommates whose ages vary between 74 and 102 years.
Two months after its start, the initiative is already producing very fine fruits in the Gardens. “It’s really a breath of fresh air in the house,” enthuses Alan Burns, managing director of RPA.
This youth who shares the daily life of the elders visibly enlivens the place. Jeanne, who used to make music in the family household, likes to sing songs with the music lovers in the residence. Alicia, an outdoor enthusiast, accompanies people on their walks and errands or simply sits in the living room to chat.
Sometimes they organize conversation sessions for those who want to stretch their English. On other occasions, it’s more DIY, computer session, cinema or pumpkin making for Halloween.
I love that sense of community. It’s even stronger than I thought.
Some appointments are already becoming unavoidable. Every week, for example, Alicia hosts the bingo, to the delight of the regulars, who laugh to see her sometimes drop the balls on the ground. Every Friday, Jeanne asks the question of the week, which invites people to question themselves on themes imbued with benevolence, such as the little joys of their day or the affection they have for each other.
“It feels good to talk,” says Francine Audet, a 77-year-old resident. When we are in a more closed environment, ideas are not necessarily renewed. With them, we open up more to the outside. »
” It’s the future “
It was the dedication of two volunteers, Hélène Gauthier and Louise Dépatie, that made it possible to welcome the two students to the Jardins Saint-Sacrement, a non-profit residence where half of the clientele relies on subsidies to complete their end of month.
For nearly a year, M.my Gauthier and Dépatie knocked on the doors of some fifteen organizations to finance the initiative, which was finally made possible thanks to assistance of $100,000 from the Youth Secretariat and $15,000 from the Caisse populaire du quartier.
“With these amounts, we can accommodate students for two years,” says Ms.me Gautier. Obviously, the goal is for it to continue beyond. Currently, only Les Jardins offer this service in the nation’s capital. Elsewhere in Quebec, the Les Marronniers residence in Trois-Rivières is a pioneer, since it has been housing students since 2017.
“It’s the future”, believes Mme Depatie. “There is a resident who no longer went out because she was ‘insecure’ on her own. Now the girls go get her, she come out, set an example Mme Gautier. Just for this lady, I find it extraordinary. »
Candidates had to meet certain criteria to be selected for the project, in particular that of wanting to reach out to people and engage with older people. Alicia, who studied adventure tourism in Gaspé, and Jeanne, who worked for several years in day camps, stood out among the seven candidates selected in the second round of interviews.
The two managers do not regret their choice: the complicity between the two students and the other residents is palpable, confirmed by the looks exchanged and the bursts of laughter that light up the living room. “A great goal that we have achieved is that we make a lot of jokes,” says Jeanne. At first, we were embarrassed… Not anymore! »
The apprehension of leaving
The students want to emphasize that this relationship is not a one-way street, and the elders also bring them a lot. “I like this sense of community,” says Alicia. It’s even stronger than I thought.” Each time she or Jeanne leaves for the university, the residents sing a concert of: “Good day, see you tonight!” On their return, it is often Victor who welcomes them. “He takes care of the plants outside. I meet him on the way home and he asks me how my day was, we chat… Here, I feel surrounded by benevolence, ”concludes Alicia.
They return it well to their new neighbors. Recently, a resident left home for the hospital. Alicia and Jeanne prepared a card for her, taking care to have it signed by all the residents. “Even between us, we don’t know everyone,” explains Francine Audet. We mainly go to people with whom we have affinities. They meet everyone. They feel the pulse of the community more than we do! »
These departures to the hospital, sometimes without return, affect the two young women who were lucky not to rub shoulders with death too closely before arriving at the Gardens. “I have experienced more pain in relation to bereavement in the past two months than in my entire life”, begins Jeanne.
“Me, I would not have thought that it was going to be an issue that was going to affect me in residence, continues Alicia. I thought it was me, the intruder who was going to come in and go. It made me realize that if I already feel that attachment after two months, it’s sure that when I leave at the end of the year, it’s going to bring lots, lots of emotions. »
Their passage, even ephemeral, already brings a burst of salutary life to the elders. “Me, I find that it wakes us up, underlines Gabrielle Villeneuve, an 83-year-old resident, “soon to be 84”, who has lived since 2017 in the Gardens. Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we don’t deal with young people. Me, I’ve always said: I don’t come here to die. I come here to live. »