School is all about learning, but many educational institutions have realized that learning can take place outside the classroom. That’s why Illiana Christian High School senior Katie Mejan was interested in taking a class that would place her at Park Place of St. John each day, working directly with residents at the community.
Part of Neil Zandstra’s position as school counselor at Illiana is overseeing the religion class that gives students the opportunity to serve at a local organization. “The class that incorporates this service program is about 30 years old. The purpose is to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” he says. “I knew Katie would be a great fit for Park Place because she’s so outgoing and positive, and she loves to do hands-on work. She has a servant’s heart.”
Gina Ringo, Park Place Life Enrichment Coordinator, agrees. “Katie walks in with a huge smile on her face,” Gina says. “That attitude is contagious to everyone around her. She just jumps in and talks to everyone and helps wherever it’s needed. From day one, she had no problem fitting in.”
Katie had been familiar with Providence, having grandparents who lived at Providence communities and who received rehab at Park Place Health & Wellness Center in St. John. Her love for older adults stems from her close relationship with her grandparents and being taught at a young age to respect her elders and value those in the population who are most vulnerable.
Illiana students are encouraged to complete service hours before graduation, but the work done in this religion class is beyond those hours. “School is more than just classwork,” he says. “It’s about learning things hands-on and figuring out where your gifts and passions are. When students have the chance to serve at Park Place, they may realize they want to work in healthcare, social work, or hospitality, or just general service to others. It’s an invaluable experience.”
For Katie, this has been more than just an educational experience. “I love the relationships I’ve built with the people who live at Park Place,” she says. “They’ve been a blessing in my life and brighten my day.”
Gina has been impressed with Katie’s work throughout the Retirement Living and Catered Living programs. A talented artist who has been such a help during arts and craft time, she also helps with the library, getting beverages, or teaching games to residents. “The residents look forward to seeing her and know her name,” she says.
Neil says he’s thankful for Illiana’s relationship with Providence Life Services because it’s opened doors for programs like this. “There's such great connections between Park Place, and Providence,” Neil says. “There’s an extensive alumni base that supports us, grandparents who we visit and who visit us, so it's fitting for our kids to give back to this community.”
Katie has a long list of what she’s learned through this experience. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, and about service. The residents taught me so much,” she says, “just between their attitudes and optimistic outlooks on life, and then for me to brighten their day a little bit—I’m so appreciative.”
While Katie is almost finished with her class, she’s not feeling ready to leave the experience behind. “I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye yet,” she says, and we know Park Place residents and staff feels the same.