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"It was so beautiful. Just being part of that experience was so amazing." said SUNY Plattsburgh Student Danielle Cofane.
Cofane was talking about a recent experience at her job in the college's Third Age Adult Day Center where she was working with a senior citizen, helping the elderly woman learn to write. "She was doing so incredibly well that I felt overwhelmed by emotion," said Cofane. "I was nearly in tears."
The woman who has developmental disabilities had gone through life never learning how to write her name. No one had taken the time to teach her, perhaps because no one thought she could learn.
But, now, as a senior citizen, she was learning. She was learning because Third Age staff members like Cofane were taking the time to teach her.
Third Age is a program run by the Intergenerational Studies Program at SUNY Plattsburgh. It gives senior citizens with memory impairments, loneliness or frailty a place to go as an alternative to nursing home placement or home care services.
And it helps families who worry about loved ones who may wander, have difficulty communicating with others or suffer from emotional problems. Family members can go about their daily routines more comfortably, knowing that seniors have a place to go where they are cared for, where they can have a social life, and where they can take part in a wide variety of activities, from cooking to yoga, from pet therapy to drawing.
Third Age is run through the college's Center for Intergenerational Studies, which oversees the Northeastern New York Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center as well as the Adirondack Regional Technology Center, the Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network and the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center.
Programs like these and SUNY Plattsburgh's Traumatic Brain Injury Institute are unique to SUNY Plattsburgh in that they offer undergraduates a chance to do hands-on work. "You generally have to go to a medical college to find opportunities like these," said Dr. Taher Zandi, Distinguished Service Professor for Psychology, who oversees the college's Center for Intergenerational Studies. At SUNY Plattsburgh, more than 500 students have been able to take part in these unique experiences over the past 14 years with Third Age and the past 20 years with the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center.
"Students like Danielle bring a lot to our program, and they gain a lot, too," said Zandi. "They give energy and enthusiasm. In return they take away hands-on experience and fulfill their internship needs."
Cofane who has wanted to work as a teacher since she was in the eighth grade, went to work at the center thinking that it might give her experiences she could take to the classroom; little did she just how much would gain from the job.
"It has helped me to not judge any more. I have always been an understanding person, but it has taught me that you cannot make assumptions about people because they will surprise you," said Cofane.
That's not all. The job has also taught her patience and perseverance, said Cofane. "It's like 'The Little Engine that Could.' You just keep going. It's really hard but the end result is good. And knowing that you've taught someone else, you can't put a price on that."
While Cofane is planning to teach, many of her peers have wound up working in the field of geriatrics. "It is rewarding when I see them in the field," said Zandi, who often consults at nursing homes only to discover that either the social worker or some other employee in residence is a former student and Third Age worker.
Cofane has grown to value the program and her work helping others. She enjoys doing projects with the participants and helping them forget all of their troubles. "The littlest thing makes them happy," said Cofane.
She also values the rest of the staff. "The staff at Third age is amazing," she adds. "They are always they to help the families cope."
For Cofane, Third Age is the place to be, second only to the beach. When she is stressed, it is where she wants to be. "It's a place for me to 'de-stress,' and, for the people that are there, it is a place for them to 'de-stress.' I feel bad for people who don't want to work," said Cofane.
If you would like more information about the Third Age Adult Day Center, please contact
Taher Zandi, Ph.D., Director
Office: Sibley 227
Phone: (518) 564-3377
Toll-Free Phone: (800) 388-0199
Office: Sibley Hall 419
Phone: (518) 564-3367
Toll-Free Phone: (800) 388-0199
Fax: (518) 564-2328