Graduation ceremonies have looked a lot different this past year because of the pandemic. But a recent celebration took place in an unusual location: Laurel Oaks Senior Living Community.
That small gathering meant a lot to Danielle Hobach.
“I think that we all became kind of a family. Like, I didn’t see my family very much and I know that they didn’t see theirs, so we all kind of leaned on each other,” she says.
Hobach and her classmate Austin Schuh spent much of the pandemic living at Laurel Oaks. There were a lot of safety restrictions, and not many visitors, but Schuh says he didn’t feel the isolation.
“I got to make friends here,” he says. “Even though they were significantly older, they were still great friends for me.”
Schuh and Hobach study at UW-Milwaukee and are Student Artists in Residence.
“I’m going to miss Austin, but I’m really going to miss Nico,” says Edie Zutz, a Laurel Oak resident who lived across the hall from Schuh and Nico, his dog, for 8 months.
She and the other Laurel Oaks residents say they loved having the students around.
“They offered programs that have never been offered!”
Zutz was able to make friendship quilts, and try her hand at paper airplane design and jazz. Her favorite thing was writing stories.
“Having a whole bunch of people contribute to those, they were really fun,” Zutz says. “I have even actually written some poems.”
She says participating in all those programs helped her come out of her shell.
“If I knew something was going to be going on, I made sure I was part of it,” Zutz says. “And not just simply sit on the davenport and say, ‘there’s nothing to do here.’”
Laurel Oak’s seniors certainly got a lot out of having two young neighbors for most of the year. But Hobach and Schuh will miss this time just as much.
“There’s so much life here and there’s so much wisdom, too,” says Hobach. “People don’t understand how valuable and precious older adults are until they come into an experience like this and really are just open to it and what they have to offer.”
“I’m so proud to have this experience and proud that people really took to it and they did something really cool,” Schuh added.
Schuh actually liked his experience at Laurel Oaks so much that he decided to stay on for an additional two weeks. He said many of the residents were doing so well on their writing projects, he wanted to stick around to help them finish.