12 July, 2019
Fredric Roi Marquez joined a program to serve food to people at a Washington, D.C. retirement community when he was 15 years old.
By doing so, the high school student hoped to earn a scholarship for college. But the program gave him more than he expected, including lessons that will serve him the rest of his life.
Marquez works at Greenspring Retirement Community, a center operated by the company Erickson Living. In his training to serve food to members, Marquez learned he needed to pay attention, be patient and move fast.
Roy and Lynn O'Connor moved to the Greenspring center 12 years ago. They like what young people bring to the community.
Roy said they come after school.
"And when you think about it, to go in and have your dinner being served at night by young people who are enthusiastic, very polite, very considerate, I think, of older people. It's just a great atmosphere."
For Marquez, the experience of having a job is new.
"Wow, I'm actually doing this, like, I'm working."
Treated like family members
Marquez also began building special relationships with the residents.
"I get to call so many residents I got close with 'grandma' and 'grandpa.'"
Roy said many students keep residents updated about their lives. They talk about school projects, exams and even family issues. The young people share their hopes and seek advice from the residents.
Lynn O'Connor said the students truly care about the people in the community.
She recalled a day when one of the young people spent a lot of extra time explaining the menu to one of the residents. "We're like grandparents to them," she said.
Greenspring is one of many senior living communities in America that are getting residents to socialize more with young people.
Experts say the experience is good for both generations.
About 4,500 students have taken part in the program at three Erickson Living Centers in the Washington, D.C. area.
Courtney Benhoff is a spokesperson for the company. She said the program started 20 years ago and offers students the chance to gain scholarships.
"Thirty-one students will receive scholarships this year. Each one will receive $10,000 in scholarship money over the course of four years of college."
Marquez is one of this year's winners.
Benhoff said residents help raise the money for the program.
"The residents love this scholarship program because it gives them the opportunity to support these young people that have made their lives more meaningful," she said.
The residents also choose the students who receive scholarships.
Sally Pritchett is a resident and member of the scholarship committee.
"Once they apply, they are good to go. I interview each of them. They're just great, great kids."
Pritchett added that the residents are happy to see the energetic young people. "You've gotten this grandparent-student relationship, which is wonderful," she said.
In return, the students learn valuable lessons in life.
Marquez credited the program with teaching him compassion. "I try to see how [it is] to be in their shoes," he said.
Marquez says he will use his scholarship to become a social worker.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Faiza Elmasry reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
scholarship –n. an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc., to a student to help pay for the student's education
enthusiastic –adj. To show strong excitement about something
polite –adj. to show good manners and respect for others
residents –n. people living in a particular place
menu –n. a list of foods that can be ordered at a restaurant
senior –n. an older person, usually 55 years or more in age
compassion –n. the feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry or in trouble
opportunity –n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.