What tips do you have to have for a long-lasting marriage? If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why? What’s your favorite childhood toy? These questions — and more – were all asked by a first-year Hastings College student Christian Kehn in a letter to a resident of College View, a senior living community in Hastings, Nebraska.
The letter exchange was part of an assignment for an Introduction to Human Communication course taught by Dr. Jessica Henry, professor of communication studies. Henry typically has students visit in person with the residents at College View and other senior communities, which she said is a great way for students to learn more about the community, practice face-to-face communication and apply class concepts to real life.
However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Henry had to find a different way to achieve a similar result.
“Getting out into the community helps the students and the residents at three senior living communities, and because we can’t be together face-to-face at this time, I wanted to make the project work with a different approach,” Henry said.
So instead of face-to-face meetings, the 20 students in the class wrote “pen pal” letters to residents at two senior living centers in Hastings — College View and the Villa at Good Samaritan — and the Primrose Retirement Community senior living center in Pueblo, Colorado.
Students wrote about themselves and then asked the residents questions such as, “What advice do you have for me to have great future relationships?” to “How has technology changed throughout your lifetime?”
Henry worked closely with the activities directors at College View and the Villa, who in turn gave letters to residents. The staff helped residents read the letters and respond, through letters and some even gave students a phone call.
Kehn, who is from Boulder, Colorado, said he approached the assignment and asked questions in order to gain perspective of someone who has more experience in life than him.
“In a world where we can’t meet together in person, I think this project is especially important,” Kehn said. “We need to be able to make connections and hear other points of view, even when we are stuck at home.”
Kehn received a letter from a 96-year-old resident who married his childhood sweetheart in 1946. He had worked as military police in the White House when he served for the Army before moving back to Nebraska to work on the family farm.
In response to Kehn’s question about his favorite childhood toy, the man responded with, “If I had to think hard enough it would be a tricycle, I don’t have it anymore but I played on it 3 to 4 times a week.”
He also gave Kehn some relationship advice, saying to make sure you’re in love, and if so you’ll have a happy life just like him.