24 hour line: 414.259.6300
Support our Mission Today!
Admission Inquiries: 414.259.6310
March 22, 2024

A Lot of My Best Friends are 85 Years Old

Featured on MarquetteToday

Nursing student finds community, family in St. Camillus program

Madeline Simmons lives in the same retirement community as her grandparents

  • By Andrew Goldstein | Marketing Communications Associate
  • March 19, 2024

Madeline Simmons had never been so nervous to go to dinner. It was her first day, and she didn’t know any of the hundreds of faces she saw in her building’s dining hall. Simmons, a self-described introvert, worked her way through the crowd and found an open spot with a table of retirees.

“Coming out of my apartment and going downstairs to do anything felt really strange at first because I’m living with a bunch of old people,” Simmons says with a laugh. “Now a lot of my best friends are 85 years old.”

Simmons is part of the St. Camillus Intergenerational Housing Program. Launched in 2022, the Marquette program places seven students in residence in the St. Camillus life plan community in nearby Wauwatosa, which cares for more than 650 seniors of the non-collegiate variety, as well as retired Jesuits. In exchange for eight hours of interaction per week with the residents, students get low-cost housing for a year as the facility’s youngest residents.

“We weren’t sure how this was going to be received by the St. Camillus retirement community and our students at first, but it has turned out to be absolutely wonderful with benefits to everybody involved,” says Dr. Stacy Barnes, associate professor of practice in the College of Nursing and director of the Wisconsin Geriatric Education Center.

The intergenerational housing program is open to all Marquette students. Chosen applicants pay just $350 per month for a studio apartment or $500 for a one-bedroom, with off-street parking, heat and Wi-Fi included. For that price, students get a private kitchen, free laundry facilities, satellite television and meal credits at the independent living dining areas on the St. Camillus campus.

There’s another benefit Simmons enjoys that most other students don’t: her grandparents, James and Theresa, also live in the facility, making family visits a lot easier to schedule.

“It’s a huge blessing,” Simmons says. “I tried my best to visit them when I was on campus as an undergraduate, and it seemed like more of a to-do item than being present with them because there was always so much to get done. Now that I’m in the same facility, I can spend more time with them.”
“Madeline is in a unique position; we’ve never had any students in our St. Camillus program have relatives at the facility prior to her,” Barnes says.

Students have a lot of choices about how to fulfill their weekly interaction requirements. Barnes says watch parties for the Packers or Marquette basketball are always popular options. Simmons holds “brain game” sessions, solving puzzles with her new friends and teaching them what she’s learned in her anatomy classes. With each passing week, students replace their preconceived notions of the elderly with lived experience.

“People have this incorrect idea that everyone who lives in a retirement home is grumpy and stuck there. That hasn’t been the case for anyone I’ve met. Everyone seems super friendly and hospitable and has so many activities to do; they don’t feel like they’re stuck,” Simmons explains.
“Our residents are extremely active with a broad range of interests,” says Jackie Knight, assistant administrator for independent living at St. Camillus.

Simmons is part of the Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program. Although she completed the physician assistant studies program as an undergraduate, Simmons discovered she preferred nursing. She now wants to specialize in emergency medicine and works in the emergency department at Froedtert Hospital.

Simmons has found that St. Camillus has provided her with more than a good place to live and some new friends; it has also made her a better nurse.

“Engaging with the diversity of the resident population here made me a lot more open to working with people across generations,” Simmons says. “If I know someone better as a person, I can see them a lot better as a patient, too, and that’s a skill I’ve honed while living here.”

Barnes, whose research focuses on older adults’ connections to family members and caregivers, based the St. Camillus program off a similar intergenerational housing initiative in the Netherlands. With a few years of positive results on its record, St. Camillus will hopefully serve as a model for others around the country.

“I’m excited about the potential research projects coming out of this because I think we can make a big contribution to scientific literature when it comes to the impact of intergenerational social connections,” Barnes says.

Until then, Marquette and St. Camillus are eager to form connections between seniors and students. Applications for the 2024-2025 academic year are being accepted until April 9, 2024.

“We are thrilled with the program,” Knight says. “I’ve loved all the students we’ve had so far and have been excited by their growth in the program and the energy they bring to the residents.”  

Applications for the 2024-25 St. Camillus program are live. To apply, click here. Email Stacy Barnes at stacy.barnes@marquette.edu with questions.

Back to Newsworthy

Let's Keep In Touch!

We look forward to hearing from you.
Click here to learn more about our Life Plan Community!
contact Us!