U. of C. students, HP Village collaborate on program

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

The Chicago Hyde Park Village, in partnership with a new University of Chicago student group, will launch a drop-in pilot program for seniors living in Hyde Park. Mather Lifeways, an Evanston, Ill.–based senior advocacy organization has given the group a grant to start up the program.

The drop-in pilot will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Friday for three weeks, on May 24, May 31 and June 7, at the Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave. Each program day will include a light lunch, snacks and activities such as computer skills workshops, discussions on local issues, poetry workshops and Hyde Park trivia games.

Susan Alitto, president of Chicago Hyde Park Village (CHPV), said the village is thrilled to be working with the students and hopes that the pilot will give the organization the boost it needs to build a strong community program for Hyde Park seniors.
“We thought it was a terrific idea to collaborate with U. of C. students,” Alitto said. “They have great ideas and energy and we can give them feedback on what people in Hyde Park would like to do.”

CHPV is a neighborhood-wide effort to provide supportive services to Hyde Park residents as they grow older in order to ensure they are able to continue to live in the community. It is part of a nationwide string of “Villages” that started in Boston, Mass. The group hopes to provide many services, including transportation to social events, assistance with shopping, and a vetted list of businesspeople – such as carpenters, accountants and lawyers – to help with the day-to-day business that is sometimes challenging for seniors.

Alitto said an earlier attempt at a more structured formal luncheon-style event last year helped determined the casual atmosphere of the pilot program.

“At the luncheon last year people kept saying they just wanted to talk to each other,” Alitto said. “So the goal is to be casual and give them a chance to get out and see each other, socialize, and focus on community building.”

Alitto attribute the concept of this program to U. of C. student Andrew Holzman.

“We welcome intergenerational collaborations,” Alitto said. “This would not have happened if Andrew had not have contacted us. We really appreciate it.”

Holzman, a first-year student studying philosophy at the U. of C. and an intern at the Hyde Park Herald, said what started out as an assignment for the newspaper turned into the opportunity to work with Hyde Park’s senior community.

“I spoke to Susan for an interview and I liked her plans so we kept in touch and began to work together,” said Holzman, whose previous experience in elder service includes an internship with Executive Office of Elder Affairs in his home state of Massachusetts. “It’s great that they are willing to put their confidence in us and that through the pilot our work is showing in a concrete way.”

Holzman and Katherine Oosterbaan, a first-year student studying chemistry, will be the primary facilitators of the workshops but are looking for more student volunteers and professionals from the community to participate in the program.

“We want to help build a place where seniors can work on a voice that can strengthen their community,” Oosterbaan said. “We also want them to have a place where they can laugh, have fun and discuss issues.”

“We see ourselves as facilitators of a program that will ultimately be run by the seniors,” Holzman said. “We want to help get it running from the ground up and show that it is viable.”

All the services offered through the pilot program are free but there will be a donation box for anyone who wants to give.
“The space at Augustana is free now but if the pilot program continues we will have to pay rent and find funding for services offered in the fall,” Alitto said.

Donations of resources, such as food and supplies, or funding for the program are welcome. Transportation arrangements may be available. Anyone interested in the program or seeking more information can contact Andrew Holzman at 1-508-397-0321 or Susan Alitto at 1-773-752-6587.