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Calgary pilot project brings students and seniors together

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Two post-secondary students met their new roomies for the fall semester on Tuesday morning.

But their dorm rooms will be different than any others in Calgary.

Shannon Penner, a Mount Royal University student, and Maryam Shakir, who is studying at Bow Valley College, will live in a seniors' supportive living facility for the next school year.

After spending last year living in university housing, Penner is looking forward to a quieter lifestyle.

"The most exciting part about this is there's a chef, so I don't have to cook, which is amazing for me, because as a student, I'm busy and that's one of the things that I kind of struggle with," Penner said.

"So this is an amazing opportunity to have my rent essentially taken care of because I can afford it, and also have my food taken care of because I can afford it."

It marks the launch of a unique pilot project that brings together multiple generations under one roof.

The students, selected through a partnership between Silvera for Seniors and the Canadian Alliance for Intergenerational Living, will reside at Westview Town Suites.

The eight-month program, running from September 2024 to April 2025, aims to address student housing affordability while enriching the lives of seniors.

The students will pay $500 a month.

For that, they get a one-bedroom suite, prepared meals and all their utilities covered.

In exchange for subsidized rent, the students will contribute 30 hours of volunteer service per month at the facility, which could involve assisting with activities, providing companionship or simply offering a listening ear.

Shakir, who is originally from Iraq, says multigenerational interactions are something she has missed since moving to Canada in 2017.

"In our culture, they teach us when we are kids to take care of our elderly people. My grandfather and my grandmother, we must go every Friday to visit them. We highly respect them. It's like we kind of (make them) holy, I would say, because they are kind of like the greatest figures of the family," Shakir said.

"I am a Canadian citizen, but I came from a different country, and other people here came from different countries. I love this diversity.

"I am really a person who loves culture, who loves music. I love learning and love new cuisines. So I will share some of mine with them (and) they might share some of their cuisine with me. Maybe we cook something together that we love. Maybe a new exercise. Maybe we can dance together."

Olivia Chubey, Silvera for Seniors chief service and operations officer, says not only will the program offer reduced rent to the students but Silvera will benefit, too, as it fills vacant suites.

"We're in the business of older adult housing. So we have to make sure that our population has access to affordable housing and lifestyle programs. That's my first priority," Chubey said.

"But then, how can I offset some of the vacancies with different generations? We're going to explore that. We are going to see how that model works."

The pilot project in Calgary is the latest example of a growing movement toward intergenerational living arrangements.

While similar student housing arrangements have been tried before in Canada, Chubey says this is the first time it has been set up with an aim toward becoming an ongoing program.

"I'm hoping that we can leverage this in the future, to whatever extent it's possible," Chubey said.

"I think government endorsement of this model is essential, especially when you look at the different ministries, for example, the Ministry of Education. There's obviously federal grants that we need that are secured but there could be also corporate sponsorship.

"People can contribute to this model going forward."

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