Brock graduate student immerses into Niagara community housing

Ella Laygo values community and relationship building.

Now, through a partnership between Brock University and Niagara Regional Housing (NRH), the Master of Applied Gerontology (MAG) student is getting to know her neighbours in profound ways.

Laygo is the first recipient of the pilot-project “Intergenerational Community — Engaged Residency (ICER), which annually awards one MAG student the opportunity to spend a year putting into practice what they are learning in the classroom as they immerse themselves into the lives of older adults, establish rapport and help to build a sense of community while residing in a NRH one-bedroom unit.

“The ICER Award is, as far as we know, truly unique,” says Associate Professor of Applied Gerontology and Health Sciences Pauli Gardner. “It provides an immersive experience for one of our students as they live and learn from the ‘real’ aging experts — older adults themselves.”

NRH provides affordable community housing to Niagara. To kick off the ICER pilot-project, a ‘meet and greet’ event was held in September to engage tenants in the types of activities they would be interested in participating in.

Working with NRH co-ordinators and MAG professors, Laygo implemented suggestions into a calendar of activities that have been taking place twice a week since October.

“This award is a great opportunity to work with older adults by getting to know them in their day-to-day lives,” says Laygo, who is on academic leave from her job as an Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. “I’m learning valuable skills to bring to my career while personally interacting with many of the 127 tenants in my building on a daily basis.”

The pilot-project is now past its halfway point, and with additional funding from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, activities offered include a combination of ‘in the building’ and ‘in the community’ initiatives including crafts and game nights, education on fraud prevention, language tutoring, and trips to the library, food banks, service organizations, and more.

An elderly woman and younger woman smile while holding ukuleles.

Niagara Regional Housing resident Maria Van Bussel and Master of Applied Gerontology student/Intergenerational Community — Engaged Residency Award recipient Ella Laygo take a break from learning how to play the ukulele for a selfie at ‘Music Night with the Tenants’ Nov. 1, 2022.

“Much of what we do in a group or one-to-one are typical activities an adult grandchild would have with an older relative or family friend,” says Laygo. “Some things are planned and others are spontaneous. For example, one night, some tenants invited me to go to the Out of the Cold program with them. I stood in line, watched the interactions, talked with people and learned how some in our community get food during the winter.”

Reflecting on the path that led her to Niagara, Laygo believes it was her early years growing up in the Philippines and spending time with her grandmother that taught her to respect her elders.

“As a young kid, my grandma was with me all the time,” says Laygo. “My parents worked, so the dynamic was that I spent a lot of time with her and her friends. I was fortunate to have that closeness and to have learned early on they are older and wiser, and many have experiences they want to share.”

Grounded within Laygo’s approach to relationship building is letting individuals decide what they want to do and learning from them.

“This experience is teaching me to have a willingness to be vulnerable,” says Laygo. “I feel like everything is new to me and is a learning experience, but I also reflect on ‘what are my neighbours getting out of this, how are they able to contribute their skills and talents with me and others?’ Listening to their life stories, personal experiences, complaints and joys helps me understand the process of aging and the life course of a person.”

From the perspective of NRH staff, the positive impacts of Laygo living intergenerationally within one of its seniors buildings was noticed after just four months.

“The goal from our perspective was that the ICER award recipient contribute to the vibrancy of the residence,” says NRH, Community Programs Co-ordinator, Caleigh Wilson. “Ella has made meaningful connections with the older adults who live within the building both formally and informally, supporting their quality of life on a broader scale.”

Read more stories in: Applied Health Sciences, Community, News
Tagged with: , , , , , , ,