It's not unusual for college students such as Lori Radcliff, 20, and her beau, Mark Storer, 25, to hang out with friends. But when the other couple are in their 70s, something special is happening.
That something is the Senior Mentor Program, a program at California Lutheran University that brings qualified retired people to live and serve on campus while interacting with the students in many settings.
The program was established in 1974, largely by Rudy Edmund, a CLU professor emeritus, to bridge the gap between college students and adults. Margaret Wold, who coordinates the program with her husband, the Rev. Erling Wold, explained: "Originally, the program was called 'Life-Long Learning' to show students that learning never ends. That is especially true now when students will have to change careers several times in their life."
CLU Senior Mentors share their experience, knowledge and skills with students in several ways. Some mentors serve as teachers, lab assistants, chaplains or librarians. Others might work in the university preschool or on a one-to-one basis tutoring students.
People become senior mentors to remain active as teachers or professionals, and many become students again to explore new areas of interest. They are welcome to attend classes and campus cultural events. In exchange for their services, mentor couples receive the use of a furnished two-bedroom apartment in the center of campus, one meal daily in the cafeteria and a transportation allowance. The university also welcomes non-Lutheran and single mentors.
There are four mentor couples. The Wolds, Cecil and Cecile Smith of Gainesville, Fla., and Howard and Clarice Rose of Minnesota live on campus. Forest and Irma Goetsch reside locally.
"Students seek out our help quite often," Howard Rose said. "They come to the apartment or more often sit with us over coffee in the cafeteria." He said senior mentors are not on campus as authority figures, but as a "real-world" resource for students.
Catherine Ventura-Merkel, senior education specialist with the American Assn. for Retired Persons in Washington, also thinks that the program is special. "The program integrates a lot of what's going on around the country in both education for older adults and intergenerational programming," Ventura-Merkel said.
"But none of them pull it all together the way this one does with the mentoring, teaching, residential living and informal opportunities to interact," she added.
Ventura-Merkel emphasized the importance of the residential and volunteer aspects of the program. "Financially, it's in the best interest of higher education to look to this older population to contribute to its academic structure and operation."
The program offers many benefits, but the key element is intergenerational socialization. Raquel Hummel, 20, a residence hall assistant from Lodi, considers the mentors important role models. "I've had Marge Wold as a teacher for biblical theology and also as a fellow student in a poetry writing course. I think that interaction is so healthy."
At her end, Margaret Wold likes that "students often want to bounce ideas off the mentors. We try not to give advice, but to be listeners."
"The students often want to expose their pain," Erling said. "It's plain they want to express to someone without criticism and who won't carry a vendetta."
Storer, a graduate student in education, says he wishes that more college students had the opportunity to socialize with older people. Radcliff agreed, saying, "I think it would be great to go with the Wolds on a double date."
The following is a list of programs and services available for senior citizens in Ventura County:
* The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program monitors the quality of care in nursing homes and advises nursing-home residents of civil and personal rights. The program also offers counseling and support for families of people who are facing nursing-home placement. Call 656-1986 or 373-7371 for free, confidential service.
* The Esplanade, 195 Esplanade Drive, Oxnard, offers the Energizers Mall Walk from 9 to 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The program provides a clean and air-conditioned environment in which to develop cardiovascular fitness. Participants meet at center court to receive blood pressure and pulse checks before and after the walk. Call 485-1146 or 988-1518.
* Seniors can have their blood pressure taken free from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursdays at the Goebel Senior Center, 110 S. Conejo School Road, Thousand Oaks. Call 497-1639 for information.
* Walk for Life takes place 8 to 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Buenaventura Plaza, 363 S. Mills Road, Ventura. Participants meet at the food court and have their blood pressure and pulse taken before and after the walk. Call 652-5095 for information.