In his prophetic book, The Graying of America, James Jorgensen warned repeatedly that America needs more resources for its aging population. More people are living beyond the traditional retirement age only to find out that the quality of their lives is greatly diminished.
Through her innovative project, Project Hope and Enrichment, Rachael Opdyke is adding quality years to the elderly and at the same time enriching the lives of many youth. She is currently working in three retirement homes. She has developed a monthly dinner/dance for area senior citizens, which is always well attended by young and old alike. In addition, she has started a fishing derby with young high school fisherman pitting their skills against that of an elderly retirement village resident. The activity is one-on-one, with much quality intergenerational bonding. There are frequent intergenerational bus trips that include a picnic and always a great deal of life-sharing.
Through her Adopt-A-Grandparent program, individuals who have long outlived their own family become part of an extended family. Students also gain much from a grandparent because they have either lost or in many cases, never knew their own. Socialization takes many forms: card playing, hymn singing, walks, lunches, letter writing, etc. Many of the retirement residents have discovered computers and its wide variety of uses. Rachael has enlisted the assistance of computer-literate high school students to teach, email, and even repair their computers.
Every other Saturday from 9am to noon, students in large numbers come to the retirement village to do residents’ chores. This can be anything from car washing, moving furniture, cookie sampling or just socializing. Every resident is remembered during the holiday season with a gift and a special holiday program. Twice each year, Rachael produces a talent show for the residents and each time every seat is taken and the elderly eagerly enjoy the talents of the young.
So many of the elderly cannot get to hospitals or pharmacies for medical assistance. To help with this problem, Rachael has enlisted the help of The Visiting Nurses Association. Through a monthly DOLLAR DAY at her high school, thousands of dollars are raised to buy mast ambulance insurance, which enables these needy people to get the medical help they desperately need by using the ambulance for a year, free of charge. Lives are saved, strengthened and enriched through this program.
Rachael’s efforts have now become a permanent part of her school and it has spread to several others. This year 400 students joined the volunteer program at Northwest High School, insuring this activity will not only continue, but increase in scope. A yearly prom is a highlight in which students and the elderly enjoy an evening of dancing, food and socialization.
Her work has caught the eye of the Kansas governor, who gave his coveted SPIRIT OF GIVING award for Rachael’s efforts. These efforts are certainly innovative, unique and effective. One 90-year old resident has adopted Rachael and they have mutually discovered the power of individuals. Project Hope hits the heart with enriching activities. Many elderly residents discover that they have a lot of living yet to do. Rachael will go on to college where she will specialize in social work.