Sarah Benforado is not your typical college senior. She lives alone. And her youngest neighbors are in their early 60s.
Benforado is the student artist in residence (SAR) at Eastcastle Place, a senior living community on Milwaukee’s East Side. She receives credit toward her degree at UW-Milwaukee in exchange for room and board and time spent lending her expertise as an artist.
“I plan and facilitate various workshops,” explains the 22-year-old Benforado, who is majoring in jewelry and metalsmithing. “I do the work of integrating myself into the community — meeting people, building relationships, identifying community assets and building upon those.” Her first workshop, she says, focused on symbols, encouraging independent living residents to design a self-representative symbol from scratch or by combining preexisting symbols. “We started the physical time talking about, ‘What are symbols? What do they mean? Where do we see them in everyday life?’ I didn’t expect people to talk as much as they did, but it was a really interesting conversation,” Benforado adds. “… Everyone sat down and drew some samples. I’m going to take those, scan them, do an image trace and then etch those symbols into rubber so that they can have a stamp. My next workshop is going to be a sketchbook-making workshop so they can design the cover [of the sketchbook] with their stamp.”
The third SAR to live and work at Eastcastle Place, Benforado is integral to the community’s intergenerational programming efforts, wherein young and old interact and share skills and stories.
“I had dinner with a woman who told me that she had to hide a pregnancy or else she would get fired, per company policy,” recalls Benforado. “… Getting to talk with someone who has so much experience and such a different history, it’s totally a symbiotic relationship. It’s wild to think how much I’ve grown since living here, as far as my assumptions and views of the aging community.”
And gratifying to understand how much Benforado and the other SARs inspire their senior charges in return.
Asked how the SAR program impacts her day-to-day life, Beverly Good, a 90-year- old Eastcastle Place resident, says, “It just brightens your day. [The students] are young and they’re full of energy and ideas of things to do. We’re exposed to things we’ve never done before.”
Excerpt from MKE Lifestyle Magazine