Hillsdale student playing cards with residents of an assisted living facility.

From Friends to Family: What It’s Like to Adopt-A-Grandparent

Written by Crystal Schupbach

One of junior Jillian Reigle’s greatest friendships at college is with 103-year-old Margaret—her “adopted” grandparent. The pair spend an afternoon each week sharing stories about their lives. Margaret spends her free time coloring, reading, and watching birds visit the feeder outside her bedroom window. Jillian is a Spanish major who spends her free time traveling with the club tennis team. While the two lead very different lives, the friendship they have formed transcends these generational gaps.

Residents at the local nursing home are able to cultivate special relationships with Hillsdale students because of the weekly visits organized through the College’s Adopt-A-Grandparent GOAL program. The program integrates volunteering with community by encouraging group activities as well, such as Christmas and Easter caroling and bingo days.

Sophomore Jeremiah O’Brien, who has been volunteering since his freshman year, has recently taken over as coordinator of the program. He continues to spend time visiting his own adopted grandma, Charlotte, each week, but now he also spends quality time with other residents who have not yet been paired with students.

Jeremiah chose to participate in this GOAL program so he could be there for those who might be struggling. Volunteering has given him an opportunity to grow as a person and has provided a lot of special moments, like singing songs with his residents, many of whom have memory loss or struggle with neurodegenerative disorders. These diseases can come into effect more quickly when residents lack visitors. This is why receiving visits is such an essential part of their weeks.

Jillian knew she wanted to participate in a program like this because of the fruitful and close relationships she had with her grandparents when they were living. Being able to provide a constant companion to her adopted grandmother, Margaret, is an important aspect of volunteering for her. Even though she could not visit her over the summer months, Jillian wrote letters to keep up with their friendship.

The experience has encouraged Jillian to relate more closely with those of other generations. Her adopted grandparent has lived through two world wars and has shared many related stories with her. For example, Margaret remembered giving her meat rations to her neighbors who had a large family because she had access to her own meat.

“It was interesting to me to hear that what she remembered most about the war was the kindness and humanity that still occurred despite it,” Jillian said.

Beginning as a volunteer, you can become family as you become a reliable source of friendship to your adopted grandparent. Jillian has been to Margaret’s family parties and gatherings at the medical facility and said it is inspiring to see Margaret making an effort to spread joy and love to her and to others.

These weekly interactions have allowed Jillian and Jeremiah to experience friendship despite differences. “We’re really living two different lives,” Jillian said. “I am able to realize the things that I worry about can be so trivial.”

*some names have been changed for privacy purposes

Crystal SchupbachCrystal Schupbach, ’20, is a Michigan native studying psychology and journalism. A few of her favorite things include dogs, summertime concerts, and garage sales–in that order.

Published in April 2019