The bond between French-speaking students and seniors within the francophone community has been strengthened through a Brock University initiative.
The REVIVRE project, led by Nursing Professor Lynn McCleary, was created to inspire high school and university students to pursue careers in French health services by giving them the chance to develop meaningful connections with residents of the Welland long-term care home Foyer Richelieu.
The project is part of the REVIVRE research study launched in 2015 by the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences in partnership with Brock’s Department of Nursing.
“Even though French is an official language in Canada, it can be difficult to access French health services,” says McCleary. “This can have a particular impact on aging populations who reside in long-term care homes where few staff speak French.”
The project, which began in March 2015, paired French-speaking student volunteers from Brock University, as well as École secondaire catholique Jean-Vanier and Centennial Secondary School in Welland, with Foyer Richelieu residents over the course of 18 months.
“The REVIRE project has informed my perspective on the importance of accessibility of minority languages in health care,” says third-year nursing student Stephanie Blais, whose first language is French. “Spending time with these individuals has affirmed for me that I want to pursue a nursing career working with older adult populations.”
Students were required to commit to two hours a week engaging residents of Foyer Richelieu in various social and recreational activities.
The project’s long-term goal is to attract francophone students to gerontology and health care, however, the secondary, more immediate purpose was to increase quality of life by providing residents with an extra social outlet.
“We are finding that intergenerational programs, such as the REVIVRE project, can be mutually beneficial for both students and residents,” says McCleary. “One of the positive benefits for residents is the decrease in feelings of isolation — a known problem — through visits with student volunteers.”
Students were prepared for their visits through a training orientation that included education in dementia, general sensory problems among older adults, mindfulness and long-term care residents’ rights.
Blais, who also served as a REVIVRE research assistant, shared that many students reported feeling personally rewarded by the experience.
“REVIVRE is about feeling good about helping others. Yes, the students gained valuable career-related experience, but they also developed new relationships,” explains Blais. “Many of the students decided to stay on and continue volunteering because of the friendships they built.”
The Brock study was recently completed and though no new research participants are being recruited, student volunteers continue to be needed for the Foyer Richelieu program.