Laurier students and seniors make music, creative community through Virtual Village project

Nov. 29, 2021 courtesy of Wilfrid Laurier University, Community and Workplace Partnerships

They haven’t recorded a chart-topping single, but what they are producing could be considered more meaningful.

Wilfrid Laurier University students and residents of Parkwood Seniors Community in Waterloo are making music and creating connections through the Virtual Village project. Announced earlier this year, the pilot project supports inter-generational learning experiences and the use of technology to facilitate meaningful relationships between students and older adults through the sharing of skills, knowledge, and experiences.

“When seniors can connect with younger people, it narrows the generational gap in how they talk about their experiences and feelings. It has been very impactful, especially during the pandemic.”

Students led virtual offerings of Java Music Club, a cornerstone of Parkwood’s Virtual Village project, as part of a Community Service-Learning component in their course. Java Music Club is a research-based, peer-support program used widely in retirement and long-term care settings that aims to foster connections and conversations among participants, some who live with dementia. Participants sing songs — such as hits by The Beatles and popular show tunes — listen to poetry and reflect on topics such as happiness, friendship, and love.

Small groups of students took turns leading the hour-long sessions for residents. The students led the sessions virtually, with residents gathered at Parkwood to participate in person as a group.

“When seniors can connect with younger people, it narrows the generational gap in how they talk about their experiences and feelings,” says Emily Weatherhead (MA ’21) Virtual Village project coordinator and a Laurier graduate student. “It has been very impactful, especially during the pandemic.”

The Java Music Club provided connections to the wider community during the pandemic, a time when some Parkwood residents expressed feeling lonely. “

The residents looked forward to seeing the students on screen each week,” says Weatherhead. “It was a big positive in their lives.”

Some students shared personal stories, spoken word pieces and musical performances with Java Music Club participants. Community Music student Jaycelle Scott showed residents a special memento from their grandmother — a guitar pick used by legendary blues musician B.B. King. Scott then performed King’s hit song The Thrill is Gone on keyboard. “

The participants were so adaptable and welcoming to us,” says Scott. “It was an honour to be with them each week and to hear about their lives. We learn from their stories.”

Scott’s classmate, Shatira Jackson, hopes to reconnect with participants at Parkwood – either in person or online – for a holiday sing-along. “They make a special impression on you,” says Jackson. “You want them to be well, and making music together is a way to do that.”

While some residents readily participated from week to week, others took longer to engage with the program. Laurier Kinesiology and Physical Education student Amber Leggett happily recalls the first time that one Parkwood resident, who attended the Java Music Club but didn’t participate, began tapping his toes to the beat of the music.

“It was so wonderful to see him finally come out of his shell,” says Leggett. “By the end of the session, he was singing along. It is wonderful to see residents participate and enjoy themselves.”

Connected in the Community Laurier’s Community and Workplace Partnerships team works with employers and community organizations to provide students with curricular experiential learning opportunities. Blending in-class learning with out-of-the-classroom opportunities provides Laurier students with future-ready experiences.

© 2021 Wilfrid Laurier University

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