The 22nd annual DeVries-Vanderkooy Memorial lecture, an event organized by the University of Michigan Germanic Languages and Literatures program to spread information about Dutch society, was held Thursday evening and featured a presentation by Gea Sijpkes, CEO of Humanitas Deventer, a long-term elderly care facility in the Netherlands.
Humanitas Deventer is home to an internationally acclaimed housing initiative that allows students to live at the elderly care facility for free. Students are required to engage with the elders for at least 30 hours a month, and in exchange the students are allowed to live comfortably in the facility for an unlimited amount of time.
The lecture was organized by Germanic Studies lecturer Annemarie Toebosch in an effort to tie the University to a larger community by introducing a concept that was successful abroad and could potentially be implemented on campus.
“I thought that given how expensive housing is for our students and how much money they already have to spend on tuition, maybe there is some opportunity here,” Toebosch said.
In her lecture, Sijpkes focused on the Humanitas Deventer model to explain how the initiative became successful. According to Sijpkes, the key to the program’s success is the mutual benefits that the elderly residents and the students gain by coexisting in the facility.
“We provide an environment in which people are engaged and empowered — both young and old,” Sijpkes said.
Sijpkes then discussed the plausibility of implementing a similar program on the University campus. She described a situation in which a few elderly residents could stay in the student Residence Halls to provide the some of the comforts of home many students miss when they go away to college.
“Students who are far away from home might need a listening ear, a homely atmosphere,” Sijpkes said. “It would be nice for two seniors to live in the dorm to provide a helping hand and vice versa, adding value to each others’ lives.”
Toebosch has reached out to University Housing to try to discuss the idea, but found that there was little interest. However, Toebosch has been communicating with the Michigan Community Scholars Program, a learning program focusing on community service, to discuss implementing a similar program on campus.
“I haven’t been able to make a clear connection to University Housing so far, but I have connected to the Michigan Community Scholars Program,” Toebosch said.
LSA junior Joe Wisniewski believes initiating a similar program on campus would have a significant positive impact.
“I think implementing a program like this at the University would be a great idea. It would be a great way to give back and have unique social interactions,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski also mentioned the financial incentive that could be a potential motivator for many students.
“For me, I’m in a situation where I really need housing for financial reasons, and that would incentivize it for me,” Wisniewski said.