During the fall 2020 semester, 17 students in Dr. Andrea Leary’s Gendered Rhetoric class had the opportunity to offer a service of presence and beautifully written biographies to 17 female residents at Oak Crest Senior Living Community. The students called the residents, talked each week, and listened. After, they composed stories about their lives and revised them with precision. They were printed for the residents and delivered in January.
In Debbie Hall’s, “The Power of Presence,” she notes that she is “repeatedly struck by the healing power of connection created by being fully there in the quiet understanding of another. I believe in the power of presence, and it is not only something we give to others. It always changes me—and always for the better” (This I Believe 102). This most certainly was the case in the remote learning environment.
Students remarked how powerful this experience was for them, and how it helped them feel connected during a time of extreme isolation. One student’s biography was shared with the family of a resident who recently passed away—a powerful moment for that student, understanding, without a doubt, the power of words. Several students stayed in contact all year with their partners.
Because their residents had a similarly positive experience, Oak Crest has asked the Writing Department to continue this partnership this year. The Writing Department’s Honor Society will be pairing up with residents soon. Two of the students who were involved during the FA20 semester are eager to engage again.