Jessica, Onno, Jurien, Jordi, Max and Denise are typical college students: they go to class, hang out with friends and live on a tight budget. But instead of residing in a dorm, they live in the last place you’d expect to find a healthy twenty-something: a nursing home.
In exchange for a free apartment in the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, the students agree to spend at least 30 hours each month interacting with their fellow residents, many of whom are at least half a century older.
“Their assignment is to ‘be a good neighbor,’” says Gea Sijkpes, Managing Director of Humanitas, who came up with the idea of having retirees and college students co-habitate. Sijkpes saw an opportunity to provide local college students with affordable housing, and infuse the daily lives of the aging adults who also occupy the building with a bit of “gezellig.” (“Gezellig” doesn’t have an English equivalent, but its meaning is similar to quaint, home-like or cozy. Gezellig is the feeling you get when you reunite with an old friend after a long period of separation.)
Surprisingly, many of the older residents were on board with the concept of young students living among them, even from the beginning. Each college-age candidate is thoroughly vetted and must go through a temporary trial period before being allowed to officially move in.
Friendships for life
Indeed, the college students and the retirees have become so close that they often act as though they are friends from a past life, reunited in an unconventional way.
Jessica hosts Saturday night wine events for her floor mates. Onno hangs on the edge of his seat every time his neighbor—a former soldier—tells tales of his life during the war. When a woman a few doors down from Jurrien was craving homemade pizza, he helped her bake it and joined her for dinner. Jordi recently took one of her neighbors, a widow, on a tandem bike ride to look for her husband’s grave. Max can often be seen helping his fellow residents create digital works of art on the computer. And Denise ensures her neighbors are up on current events by reading them highlights from the daily newspaper.
Similar models of intergenerational living have sprung up in several other European cities, including the U.S.
Sijkpes is pleased with the result of the experiment, and says the addition of a few young adults has helped make Humanitas the “warmest and nicest nursing home of Deventer.”