The following is from the Summer/Fall 2007 edition of The Dedman College Newsletter.

Beyond these doors: Dedman in the community

By Nancy George
SMU News & Communications

Crystal Elliott (left) shared her stories with Kristiana Carbonneau (center) and Kate Byers, students in the rhetoric class "Youth and Age."
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When 89-year-old Crystal Elliott marched into the social room at the Juliette Fowler Home, Katie Byers hoped the vibrant, outspoken woman would be her partner. Byers was waiting with other SMU students to be matched with a resident of the retirement center as part of a life story project for their first year rhetoric class, “Youth and Age.”

For the class, students tape interviews with the residents of Juliette Fowler and Walnut Place Nursing Home during four to five visits, then present them with tapes and books of their life stories.

Byers approached the project with trepidation. As a child, every Sunday she and her family visited her grandfather at a nursing home. She remembered the narrow hallways, the smells, and the white walls.

“I was surprised at how pretty Juliette Fowler was and I sighed with relief when I found out that Crystal was going to be our partner,” Byers says.

She and class partner Kristina Carbonneau soon became friends with Crystal Elliott, who shared her passions, faith, joys and disappointments. They told her their worries – Kristina’s father’s hospitalization and Katie’s questions about her faith.

The project turns students’ assumptions about the elderly topsy turvy, says Mary Jackman, lecturer in the first year writing program. “It is a big surprise to them that their youth, beauty and spirit rejuvenates the elderly. In turn, their elderly partners offer them wisdom and advice as friends.”

Jackman created the class in 2002 after her mother moved to a nursing home. “It opened my eyes to a community many of us never see,” she says. Grants from Vista Care and America’s Life stories support the “Youth and Age” class.

Class members read memoirs such as Am I Old Yet? by Leah Komaiko and write papers about issues that affect the elderly, but the life story project is the highlight of the class.

“They can read about loneliness among the elderly, but when they make a friend who is 50 years older, issues like loneliness are no longer abstractions, they become real to them,” Jackman says.

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