While seniors prepare to graduate and depart GW next month, another group of seniors – living at St. Mary’s Court senior citizens’ home on 24th Street – celebrated the residence’s 30-year anniversary two weeks ago.
Occupants at the residential living facility for the elderly, which sits just outside campus, have endured some of the downsides of living adjacent to a college, like loud students and construction. But overall, residents and officials at St. Mary’s said the building’s tenants have a positive view of GW, thanks to a strengthened relationship partly due to 30 years of student volunteer work there.
The Neighbors Project, established more than a decade ago by the University’s Office of Community Service, has allowed student volunteers to spend time at St. Mary’s in a variety of ways. Students can “adopt-a-senior,” go grocery shopping for residents, help with monthly clean-ups of individual apartments or volunteer to serve lunch in the residence’s dining room.
Mattie Corvon, 86, has participated in the adopt-a-senior program for the past four years and said she still keeps in touch with the students she was paired with.
“I think it’s very educating,” she said. “I find that in that long span between seniors and young people, it’s a lot closer than we think.”
Corvon, who grew up in the District and once worked at GW Hospital, said she enjoys living next to campus and still being involved with GW. She has lived at St. Mary’s since 1998.
“I like to know what’s going on on campus,” she said. “I like this area and I like the energy. Being so close to campus almost makes you feel young again.”
Residents also have the benefit of access to Lerner Health and Wellness Center, Gelman Library and professors who volunteer to give lectures.
“It’s a very positive thing,” said Margaret Pully, executive director at St. Mary’s. “There is a lot more involvement and communication. We feel a part of the school.”
Pully, who became executive director two years ago, said when she started as the resident services assistant more than 20 years ago, the facility had only two or three student volunteers a year. She now estimates that number to be around 25 to 30 per semester.
Senior Anne DiGiulio started volunteering at St. Mary’s two years ago as the community service coordinator for the Residence Hall Association. She still visits the building occasionally, she said.
“Just sitting and talking to residents and being able to interact with residents was really a great experience,” she said.
Shabaka Jones-El, who has been the front desk manager at St. Mary’s since it opened, said the only complaints he has ever heard from residents regard noise and construction. Other than that, he said they seem content about their location adjacent to campus.
“The intergenerational activity is good,” he said. “Residents seem to be happy with the interactions and I know they appreciate the students.”
Pully stressed that while the residents benefit from their connection to the University, students too profit from their volunteer work.
“We feel we are a good training ground for students,” she said. “In 30 years we’ve developed a very good working relationship with GW and hope it will continue.”