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Student-athletes enjoy dinner and discussion at retirement communities

Residents at Mayflower have been sheltering in place and observing the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Elena Coppellel.

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, residents at the local Mayflower Community, a retirement community for Grinnell’s senior citizens, and Grinnell’s track team sat down at round tables together. Stranded in the dorms during winter break at a time when the Dining Hall wasn’t open, the sixty-plus students enjoyed feasting on warm meals like zucchini tofu with roasted veggies, regular and vegetarian lasagna and chicken parmigiana with the generous residents who invited them in for a family-like dinner.

With warm food and a few Mayflower residents at their tables, the sixty-plus student-athletes shared news of their hometowns and school life while listening to the many interesting stories of those at the Mayflower. The student-athletes were accompanied by Head Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field Coach, Evelyn Freeman and Head Men’s Track & Field Coach, Will Freeman.

At separate times, the Grinnell Swim and Basketball teams also visited Mayflower to eat dinner with the residents, and the basketball team was also invited to St. Francis Manor for a similar dinner with the residents there.

“We want to facilitate intergenerational communication, relationships, and programs,” Kellie McGriff, associate director at Mayflower, and Steve Langerud, executive director at Mayflower, wrote in an email. “Helping students and residents appreciate the life and work of each other is important to us.”

It’s not the first time Mayflower has hosted student-athletes from Grinnell, however. In the winter of 2007, McGriff and David Arsenault, coach of the men’s basketball team at the time, collaborated to have a team dinner at the Mayflower while the Dining Hall was closed at the College. This continued off and on until 2018, so it was not a completely new idea when McGriff additionally contacted the swim and track and field coaches in 2018.

“Our residents love Grinnell College activities and regularly attend academic, social, arts, and athletic events,” McGriff and Langerud wrote. “This is a good way to bring students who produce the on campus events face-to-face with their biggest fans.”

“I really enjoyed [the experience],” said Kai Vorhies ’19, a member of the swim team. “We usually do some kind of volunteering event like making cards for the Mayflower every year, and it was fun to actually go and talk with the people we’ve made cards for in the past. Overall, I’d say that it was fun to talk with residents of the Mayflower, and the team as a whole really enjoyed the experience.”

Overall, the coaches seem to be happy with the experience as well.

“It was a big hit,” said Erin Hurley, Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming Coach. “It reminds the students that they are part of a large community.” She said that the experience helped her team members create rewarding and engaging connections with older adults. Emails and phone numbers were exchanged after the dinner was over, and many student-athletes promised to keep in touch.

In addition, McGriff encouraged the athletes to consider volunteering at Mayflower in the “Adopt-A-Grandparent” program where Grinnell College students work one-on-one with healthcare residents once a week. She also suggested that students interested in careers in allied health professions consider getting some of their 2,000 hours of grad school practical experience serving as Certified Nursing Aides.

“We are a living laboratory for students and faculty wishing to explore social, policy, health care, and business,” Langerud said. “The legacy of Grinnell College lives in our residents. From alumni to beloved professors [to] a former college president [George Drake], students can live the history of Grinnell College at the Mayflower.”

Many of Grinnell’s sports teams have visited Mayflower Community for dinner and friendly discussion with residents. Photo by Elena Coppellel.
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