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Nazareth students honored at National Philanthropy Day for intergenerational learning with St. John’s elders

Published September 09, 2022

Nazareth students studying aging alongside elders, and together supporting community nonprofit organizations, were honored September 9, 2022, with an Outstanding Young People in Philanthropy award. The Genesee Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals presented nine awards recognizing contributions that make our region a great place to live, work, play, and age well.

Nazareth students from a range of majors — including physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, social work, and psychology — can take courses held weekly each spring and fall at St. John’s Meadows senior living community in Brighton, taught by David Steitz, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the gerontology program at Nazareth.

Nearly 700 Nazareth students, plus elders from St. John’s senior living community, have been part of the 13-year partnership called St. John’s Collaborative for Intergenerational Learning — which has benefited the college students, the elders, and community agencies. 

“Rochester should be proud of this program,” says Alexandra Bailey, development manager at St. John’s Foundation. “When you see intergenerational relationships develop and help the community, it’s the best feeling.”

Physical therapy student Makenzie Robbins ‘23, ‘25G, who also is earning a minor in gerontology, took one of the courses last fall and says she benefited from getting to know elders as individuals. When she worked on a class project with one elder, they called and emailed each other regularly and met over dinner at the elder’s home. Robbins gained knowledge about life in older age that will benefit her in working with older clients in her career. “I got to hear their perspective and they could hear what I had to say,” she says. “We each benefited from each other.”

Her group’s service project included learning about the Center for Disability Rights’ mission of integration, independence, and civil rights and helping with a costume contest and a refreshment stand at the Center’s inclusive Trunk-or-Treat Halloween community event at Frontier Field. The classmates agreed that the project helped them become more aware and involved in a community they had known little about.

The award recognizes that Nazareth students and elders have supported more than two dozen community organizations to meet needs identified by each organization, including conducting research, doing fundraising, and organizing events such as a lecture series. The community partners include the Center for Disability Rights, East High School, Open Door Mission, LifePrep@Naz, the Veterans Outreach Center, Owen’s House, Episcopal SeniorLife Communities, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester, Hillside Family of Agencies, Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, House of Mercy, Sojourner Home, Willow Domestic Violence Center, Rochester-Monroe County Youth Bureau, Lollypop Farm, Cub Scout Pack 2000, Dr. Douglas Smith Learning Center, Hope Hall School, Alzheimer’s Association Rochester & Finger Lakes Chapter, The Arc of Monroe, Compeer Rochester, Empire Justice Center CASH Program, Foodlink of Rochester, Lifespan, Seneca Park Zoo, RochesterWorks!, and United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

Last year a student group presented a check for $2,000 — enough to buy 700 meals — to the Open Door Mission from fundraising efforts on the Nazareth, St. John’s Meadows, and Brickstone (St. John’s residential) campuses. For each project, students and elders learn about the organization and its mission, and interact with both the staff and those served. They gain insight into how nonprofits work, how community needs are identified and measured, and what factors cause the need to exist.

Professor Steitz is proud of the relationships that form between the students and the elders — some of which continue even after the college students graduate — and of sharing this model of intergenerational learning through publications, conferences, and workshops to show its value to other colleges and senior living communities.

Future clinicians like Robbins learn to “see older adults not as a hip replacement who needs therapy now, but as the whole individual,” says Steitz.

Maria Sommerville agrees. She was in her 40s when she enrolled at Nazareth and took some of Steitz’ classes as prerequisites for a graduate degree. “The immersive experience ignited a passion for the material being taught like nothing I had experienced,” she says. “I was in this class over 10 years ago, and I can still speak with confidence on the topic of aging.” 

She is now director of marketing and community outreach at The Highlands at Pittsford retirement community and says, “I would never have gotten this job had I not participated in the courses with David Steitz. The immersion at St. John’s prepared me in a way no other experience could have for my current role. I know that I have a deeper understanding of the strengths we gain while aging. David focuses on those strengths rather than deficiencies. It is easy to recognize the signs of aging — gray hair, a stoop, gnarled joints. It is harder to have the empathy to slow down, listen, and appreciate the individual.”

Some elders have liked the course so much that they’ve participated multiple times. “The elders do all of the same projects and the same work as the students do. They just don’t get a grade,” says Steitz. Each semester’s course focus shifts based on the participants’ interests.

“The aging experience is not something to be dreaded,” says Kenneth Dodgson, a retired physician and St. John’s Meadows resident who has been part of the classes for 10 years. “As people retire, they have time, and that time can be used very profitably, and it is, in that class.”

Robbins — who is also president of the student gerontology club at Nazareth — noticed that. “They (the elders) want to be as involved as anyone else wants to be,” she says. “They still want to learn.”

Jared Longmore, president of the regional fundraising professionals’ group, says, “Our award winners reflect the generosity of spirit that makes our community such a special place and reflect the multitude of ways people can be a philanthropist.”

The full list of award winners:

  • Outstanding Young People in Philanthropy – Group: Students for the St. John’s Collaborative for Intergenerational Learning
  • Outstanding Corporation: KeyBank
  • Outstanding Small Business: Bold & Gritty Coffee
  • Outstanding Foundation: Rochester Female Charitable Society
  • Robert A. Clinger Outstanding Fundraising Professional: Gerianne Puskas, CFRE
  • Outstanding Philanthropist: Dr. Gina A. Cuyler
  • Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser: Kiara Warren
  • Outstanding Young Person in Philanthropy: Rabina Aqa Jan
  • Burton S. August, Sr. Award for Community Leadership: Justin Vigdor
For More Information

Julie Long | Senior News & PR Officer | | (585) 781-8186 (cell) | (585) 389-2456

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Course participants present to their classmates at St. John's senior living in Brighton.