STAR Student Corner
Service Learning with Older Adults
The Adopt a Grandparent Program is an initiative under a community program called the Collaboratory for Aging Resources and Education (CARE) and collaborates with the Service, Teaching, Aging, and Research (STAR) Lab with UHD under the College of Public Service. The STAR Lab promotes initiatives to connect UHD students to service-learning opportunities with older adults in the community along with advancing issues important to older adults in general. This program is one service-learning option for students offered under the STAR Lab and required in two aging courses offered in the UHD Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program under the College of Public Service. The two courses which offer this service-learning option are Community Navigation with Older Adults (SOCW 3303) and Practice with Aging Populations (SOCW 3331).
Adopt a Grandparent Reflection
During the Summer, I took Community Navigation, a course exploring the importance of navigation in inpatient and outpatient community settings with older adults, where we are taught plans of care, services, and resources. In addition, it is also a service-learning course allowing you to enhance your academic learning through real-world experiences and create a meaningful impact on the community. The Inter-Professional Event (IPE) Elder Abuse Simulation with U.T. Health Service Learning and Adopt A Grandparent were two of the most influential service-learning experience. The Service Learning course was one of the most influential and impactful courses. The unique component promotes growth and experience with different fields of study. I have participated in this service-learning course and the court watch program, and they have both opened my eyes to my community, the negative and positive aspects. Taking any service-learning course will open your eyes and create a necessary change.
The Inter-Professional Event (IPE) Elder Abuse Simulation with U.T. Health Service Learning allowed students to view an elder abuse simulation virtually and engage in person. Students that attended in person were to participate with pharmacology, nursing, medical school, and social work students demonstrating skills and knowledge while working in a hospital setting. The University of Houston-Downtown collaborated with Southeast Texas Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (SETxGWEP). SETxSWEP has a diverse professional community that enhances programs and resources for individuals serving older adults.
Each program provided me with essential information that will help me to serve my clients effectively. During the IPE event, the elder abuse simulation allowed me to act as a social worker taking the lead in serving my client with resources in a hospital setting. I had to think critically and observe my client to see if there were signs of elder abuse. In a regular course (no service learning), these opportunities may not be advertised, which is unfortunate. Even with the fast-paced course, it still provided me with hands-on experience that helped me thrive and learn as a social worker. During the IPE program, you had to think on your feet, communicate with your team, and be a critical thinker. During the simulation, it felt authentic that each "health professional" had to analyze, evaluate and observe the client to serve the older adult effectively. Overall, each program changed my perception, provided information, and allowed me to engage with an older adult uniquely.
In the Adopt a Grandparent program, students were required to complete 6 hours of talking with an older adult over the phone. The program is run by the Collaboratory for Aging Resources and Education (CARE); the organization promotes awareness for issues impacting older adults, training senior service providers and policies that help healthy aging. The Adopt-A-Grandparent program promotes the connection between older adults and college students through regular check-ins over the phone. While participating in the program, I connected with my "Grandma," forming a relationship. Her stories and love for adventure were shocking! She is visually impaired; however, it does not stop her from doing water aerobics, going on cruises, skiing in Colorado, and line dancing. She is an activist in her community, organizing events and being a leader for vision-impaired individuals. She is filled with adventure and doesn't have aging stopping her from living her life the best way. My “Grandma" was full of perspective and personality; her dedication to her family and self showed.
My overall experience with the Adopt-A-Grandparent program was fantastic. It allows students to leave their comfort zone to experience a new population that is sadly forgotten about. It teaches you that caring for older adults is a unique program with opportunities. My view on older adults changed, creating a shift that previous experiences often cloud your past experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. However, this program allowed me to step out of my comfort zone to experience a new light working with older adults. If any students are interested in this opportunity, I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and volunteering with the Adopt-A-Grandparent.
As a Social Worker major, we are required to complete 400 hours of a field practicum, essentially an internship where you are mentored by UHD social work faculty and a Social Worker at your placement. When it became time to choose my field practicum, the S.T.A.R. Lab stood out. I had been volunteering with Mr. Villano, the Director of the Center Public Service and Community Research, for a few months with Commerce Connects. While volunteering, I was able to attend several events the S.T.A.R. Lab was hosting. It allowed me to learn about elder abuse and volunteer with older adults. Participating within Commerce Connects allowed me to be familiar with S.TA.R. Lab and gain experience with older adults, ultimately leading me to choose the S.T.A.R. Lab as my field practicum.
Alexandria Flores, Social Work Major