It's Friday night and there's a party going down at The Laurels of Toledo.
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Inside the long-term care facility's brightly lit cafeteria, University of Toledo students Rachel Beeson and Nonso Agubosim cut a rug to the tune of Hey Ya! by the group Outkast. Swaying along with the beat, Catherine Campbell, 92, is firmly parked in her wheelchair on the edge of the makeshift dance floor.
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Nearby, a dozen students man casino games under Las Vegas-themed banners while several others chat with senior citizens at decorated tables. A few of the more adventurous elderly residents are even coaxed into dancing. It's senior prom night for members old and young with the Adopt-A-Grandparent program.
Co-founded by Ms. Beeson in 2013, the budding UT student group pairs two students for each volunteer elderly resident of The Laurels. Students are required to attend a group activity once every four weeks and to visit their adopted grandparent an additional time each month.
For several members, including Ms. Beeson, their participation is deeply personal.
"I realized I wasn't happy because I wasn't helping people," said Ms. Beeson, who is studying to become a physician. "I can make a difference right now."
Initially, Adopt-A-Grandparent consisted mostly of its founders and their friends. By this spring, the group had swelled to 30 members.
Ms. Beeson first thought about creating the program in high school. While working as a nurse's aid in the local facility where her grandmother lived, she noticed many residents had few visitors. She found her own experiences dealing with the elderly to be rewarding and began to think about the advantages of pairing them with student visitors.
Adopt-A-Grandparent's activities director, Angelica Ray, echoed Ms. Beeson's sentiment. When her grandmother was dying of cancer Ms. Ray was away at college, and unable to get home often.
"I know that when my grandma was in the nursing home she didn't have many visitors," Ms. Ray said. "I feel like I'm kind of making up for it by being with someone else who needs someone to be there."
Ms. Ray splits her time between an apartment in Toledo and a job near Cleveland, where she often spends weekends. Between school, work, and the commute she squeezes in time to visit with her adopted 100-year-old grandmother, Minnie Chaney.
Ms. Ray says it's the small things with Ms. Chaney that make the biggest impact. She smiles when recalling the time she and fellow student Katina St. Pierre fixed Ms. Chaney's phone, or when the pair brought hand-painted salt shakers as a gift for their adopted grandmother's 100th birthday.
"Everything means so much to her and I love that I can actually see that," Ms. Ray said. "I think that's priceless in itself."
On the Friday of the seniors prom, she borrowed a slot machine from her parents and made the hour-and-a-half-long drive to The Laurels. As Ms. Ray helped the senior citizens work the game, Maryalice Perryman, 68, hit the blackjack table one station over.
Ms. Perryman, a double amputee who has been living at The Laurels since 2010, says she loves the visits from her two adopted grandchildren. The young women often stop by to play cards or board games and occasionally bring a Ms. Perryman a flower.
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"You know, people your own age sometimes can't do the things you want to do," Ms. Perryman said. "They're young and they can, and if I can't they can help me."
Page Rostetter, director of activities for The Laurels, says she's seen a positive change in the residents as a result of their participation in Adopt-A-Grandparent.
"I think that community link is so important," Ms. Rostetter said, adding that she felt the students also benefited from their participation. "It's a good give-and-take situation."
For Eduardo Diaz, an MBA student from Venezuela, the reciprocity of his experience was a welcome surprise.
With three grandparents still living in Venezuela, spending time with his adopted American grandmother, 77-year-old Pauline Baumgartner, was both a new link to Toledo and a remembrance of the relationships Mr. Diaz left behind.
As the unrest in his home country continues, Mr. Diaz said visiting his adopted grandmother was a gift for himself and his fellow Venezuelan-born student, Angelica Da Conceicao.
"It's kind of a relief from our stress," Mr. Diaz said. "It's just a timeout we take to be with her and forget about everything else that is happening.
"When I first joined I thought I was going to give more than what I was going to get," Mr. Diaz said, adding, "but I'm definitely getting more back than what I'm putting in."
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