Students give seniors a taste of chicken soup

Establishing a bond between the community and university is a major objective for Joyce McCauley, associate professor in the Department of Language, Literacy and Special Populations.

“I want to see the students civically connect,” said McCauley, who also chairs the American Democracy Project at Sam Houston State University.

Her goal is to have students reach outside the boarders of the university by utilizing the skills, knowledge and dispositions learned in classes to meet community needs.

She started with a plea of help, asking senior citizens of The Forum in The Woodlands and Hearthstone Assisted Living in Conroe to help her students. Both facilities house senior citizens in need of assisted living.

McCauley’s education students need to practice skills learned in class like reading aloud, getting and keeping audience’s attention and leading discussions; Thus the Chicken Soup Group was born in 2003, named for the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book that contains interesting stories that appeal to adult listeners, she said.

A typical session starts with a student beginning a discussion on a topic related to the story he/she is about to read.

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Then, the story is read, followed by a discussion of memories or similar experiences. The seniors then evaluate the reader on style and technique, and afterwards, the student ends the evening with a joke to leave the audience laughing.

It is the student’s decision on what story they will read to the group.

Students are required to write a reflection paper about their experience, which completes their participation in the program, and gain points for credit in class.

“This program really enhanced their (the senior citizens’) lives; they really appreciate stories being read to them,” said Pat Harrington, activities director at Hearthstone Assisted Living.

Many of the participating seniors have macular degeneration, a disabling eye deterioration or mild dementia, but they are still able to enjoy a good story and the company of young people, McCauley said.

During the Chicken Soup Group meetings there is no telling what will be said, but the seniors are sharp-witted and bright people who enjoy helping the students, according to McCauley.

Another program that McCauley has founded is Life Matters, a program that gives students the opportunity to record the life stories of senior citizens.

Discussion topics are diverse and seniors are encouraged to speak about the past, McCauley said.

Harrington said the Life Matters program give seniors a time to talk about events in their lives that the younger generation will never experience such as the evolution of technology.

“They love it; they don’t want you to leave,” said Dana Parinello, an education student who has participated in the Life Matters program.

Once all the stories are complied and edited they are published and distributed to contributors.

“It’s really a joy to collaborate with our senior citizens on projects,” said McCauley. “I am happy that our SHSU students get this experience.”

In addition, she and Marilyn Rice, assistant professor in the department of curriculum and instruction, have started a computer class for the elderly.

McCauley said she is continually looking for donations and grants to help her programs, as well as more ways to reach out and civically connect

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