Project GO teaches students about life

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Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal has a very unique volunteer program aimed at students in secondary 4 and 5 (grades 10 and 11). Project GO (Geriatric Opportunity) is a partnership between high schools and Maimonides Geriatric Centre that enables students to gain valuable life experience in a geriatric setting. How does it work? The volunteer department meets with the administrators of the high school to come up with a program that best suits everyone’s needs. Each high school has a structured program created just for them. The students, in groups of three-10, are pre-selected by the school and then re-screened and trained by Maimonides. What makes this program unique is that the students are usually released from school for 1-3 hours a week.

“The school administrators feel it provides a community perspective for the students rather than simply academics. It teaches the students about life outside school, about the responsibility to people in the community and often gives them the opportunity to think about different career choices at a time when they are making important life decisions,” says Patti Derstenfeld, who coordinates the program at Maimonides. But Project GO is not a ticket for an afternoon out of school. Students are required to be punctual and attend each of their scheduled volunteer sessions. “If they miss three or more, they are dismissed from the program. We rely on them and expect them to commit to us as well,” says Derstenfeld.

This year, students from Royal West Academy, an alternative high school in Montreal, volunteered every week to teach residents the Wii, the latest Nintendo video craze that is sweeping the nation. “It was a lot of fun to see the residents play. Sometimes, after we taught them, they were better than us,” says 16 year-old Keith Macorin. “Bowling was usually their favorite,” he adds. The experience was profound for Macorin. A month into his time as a volunteer at Maimonides, his grandmother was admitted into a geriatric facility. “I learned about the affect on family, the best way to communicate with the elderly, the importance of activities. I also made good friends in the process, not just with the other students but with the residents as well,” says Macorin who is going to study Commerce at Dawson College in the fall.

“This is more than a volunteer experience, it is truly a cultural experience for many of the volunteers,” says Derstenfeld. “Most of our volunteers are not Jewish and get to learn about the cultural traditions and language. It really broadens their perspective.” Students assist in various departments of the centre. Activities for past Project GO programs include: Bringing residents from their rooms to special programming, buddy visits and assisting with therapeutic recreation activities. Maimonides Project GO began 15 years ago and has grown to include private and public schools as well as those for special-needs students. Just like school, upon completion of the program, each participant graduates and receives a certificate.

For more information about Project GO, please contact Patti Derstenfeld at 514-483-2121 ext 2213.