Student-organized wellness fairs bring holiday cheer to Westbrook Housing residents

People paint holiday-themed crafts at a wellness fair for Westbrook Housing residents
Westbrook Housing Authority residents create holiday-themed crafts at a mini wellness fair organized by UNE students.

Students at the University of New England are helping spread holiday cheer to older residents of Westbrook Housing Authority (WHA), having recently hosted two wellness fairs with winter holiday themes.

The mini wellness festivals — hosted collaboratively by WHA, the UNE Westbrook College of Health Professions (WCHP) Office of Service-Learning, and UNE’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health (CEAH) — brought together residents of WHA’s Presumpscot Commons on Dec. 1 and Robert L. Harnois Apartments on Dec. 8 for a myriad of activities including cookie decorating, crafts, games, gift raffles, and wellness needs assessments.

The festivals were organized by a core group of students from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program — Class of 2022 students Hannah Jones, Anna Cook, and Jenny Vasquez. Students from a number of health professions programs also helped plan the activities and volunteered, including students from the College of Dental Medicine and the social work, physical therapy, and nursing programs.

Jones said the festivals were intended to build upon the CEAH’s and WHA’s first-ever Healthy Aging Festival, held this past summer on the grounds of the WHA’s Larrabee Woods campus. This winter, Jones remarked, the center wanted to make resources and activities more accessible to residents by hosting events directly in their buildings.

“Older adults have struggled with isolation as a result of the pandemic, and bringing the community together is really important,” Jones said. “These wellness festivals are a great way to lift people’s spirits during the holidays and bring an interprofessional team of students together to help engage with older adults.”

Tom Meuser, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health, organized and led a small caroling group with three students — Cook, Hayden Buckhalt (D.P.T., ’22), and April Kluthe (A.B.S.N., ’22) — who sang for residents at three of WHA’s buildings. Meuser said the response from residents was overwhelmingly positive.

“As we finished singing at one building, an older resident came up to us and said, smiling, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had in years of living here. Thank you,’” Meuser recalled. “I can’t think of a better end to our evening of outreach.”

Trisha Mason, M.A., director of the WCHP Office of Service-Learning, stated that UNE students are routinely up to the challenge of serving their communities.

“Year in and year out, it’s a pleasure to work with our students in harnessing their energy and enthusiasm for good, and these wellness fairs were a perfect example,” Mason reflected. “Thoughtfully designed and delivered by students, activities aimed to help older adults combat isolation and bring holiday cheer. Planned together with input from residents at Westbrook Housing, they worked as teams to provide education, information, and, most importantly, have fun.”

Funding for this activity was provided by the Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education, with special thanks to the Office of Research and Scholarship and Brian and Deborah Dallaire for their support.

WHA residents decorate cookies
Hannah Jones assists residents with a raffle