2024-07-18 12:22 AM

Goodwin Living Teams Up With Local High School to Benefit Seniors of All Ages

As graduation approaches for a number of high school seniors, residents at Goodwin House Alexandria and seniors at Wakefield High School in Arlington are benefitting from each other educationally and socially. 

For the past few years, Goodwin House Alexandria has partnered with Communities in Schools — a non-profit organization that works with schools across the country in establishing relationships between public high schools and community partners. The program they have created “Seniors for Seniors” allows Goodwin House Alexandria residents to assist Wakefield seniors with their senior projects — a requirement for graduation — by providing support and guidance. 

Jackie Ruoff, Wakefield’s coordinator for Communities in Schools, said this specific program allows residents and students to work together virtually on the senior’s research paper and a 25-minute presentation. This includes figuring out which “areas of focus” students need support in, as well as working on time management, writing, editing and presentation practice. 

“Students at Wakefield have learned that there are people in our community who are willing to support them, even if they have never met them before,” Ruoff said. 

Students who join the program often have “extra barriers” and lack of “key players” in their support systems. For Goodwin House Alexandria residents, Ruoff said they have a chance to help the next generation of students, as well as support the community around them. 

“In this particular program, resident volunteers play a key role in shaping students’ world view,” Ruoff said. “They show students that there are people out there who are strangers — at the start — and totally willing to step up and give their time to push students to be their best.” 

Goodwin House Alexandria residents Pat and Irma Canan are currently helping their third Wakefield senior. (Photo: Goodwin Living)

Goodwin House Alexandria residents and husband and wife Pat and Irma Canan have been involved with the program since the fall of 2021, and are currently helping their third Wakefield senior, Khristel Perez. Both Pat and Irma were previously involved in education, as the former was a high school physics teacher and the latter was a director of international programs for higher education.

“It’s just something that really drew us,” Irma said when asked about first finding out about the program. “[Pat and I] wanted to do something that would give back to the community.”

Reflecting on being both a former high school teacher and student, Pat said he thinks this program would have been beneficial for himself in order to have a more “structured effort and magnitude” when graduating. For Irma, her previous work with international programs grew her interest in people “who are learning to function in a different language.” She said Khristel has taught her that there is “hope for the future.” 

“She’s been really fun to work with,” Irma said when talking about Khristel. “I think that her project isn’t some mechanical effort to try to fill the requirement, it’s passion-driven.” 

For Goodwin House Alexandria residents who aren’t currently involved with the program, Pat said it is a good way for senior citizens to work with kids and help them “along a path.” 

“That’s one of the things about retirement is there aren’t many opportunities to contribute to the community as we had when we were working,” Pat said. “It’s exciting and fun to have this opportunity.” 

Khristel Perez got involved with the program after realizing she was behind on her project and got in contact with Ruoff to partner her with a Goodwin House Alexandria resident. Although the first meeting between her and the Canans was “different” due to it being through a Zoom call, Perez said it turned into an “overall great experience” as they got to know each other and discuss their thoughts on her project.

“Overall I was excited about the opportunity but also a bit anxious about meeting new people,” Perez said, “but the welcoming and supportive nature of the Canans made me feel comfortable and grateful for the support being provided.”

Perez’s project is primarily focused on creating a “comprehensive” travel planning website that is specifically designed to “cater to the needs of young travelers who are budget conscious.” The goal of her project is to create a “convenient one-stop-shop” for travel planning, making it easier and more accessible for young people to “explore the world while staying within their budget.” 

The Canans have helped Perez with her project by assisting her in improving her essay by offering suggestions and feedback, as well as sharing their own knowledge and experiences with the traveling topic. She said the couple has been an “incredible source of support and guidance” for her. 

“My mentors have had a significant impact on me,” Perez said. “Not only have they provided me with valuable advice and assistance, but they have also become friends to me.” 

By the end of the program, Perez said she hopes to have completed her senior project and gain a “wealth of knowledge” about her topic, as well as build a strong relationship with the Canans and learn from their experiences.  

“Looking to the future, one of my main goals is to reflect on my high school years and be proud of how much I have accomplished,” Perez said, “especially regarding this project, which has become one of the most significant projects I have worked on and has inspired me to pursue a career as a software engineer.”

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