Scholar Jessica on the McLean County Nursing Home

All content is © Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project

It would be unfair to say that people are equal. People are neither "equally" rich, nor "equally" poor. People are not "equally" beautiful, or "equally" unbeautiful, or even "equally" intelligent.
Everyone is different, starting from the place they are born, their gender, the people in their family, socio-economic status, physical and mental health, intelligence, education, etc. We cannot, by its very definition, say that humanity is equal.
However, I believe there is one aspect of humanity that binds us all together. We age.
All humans age, whether we are young, old, beautiful, intelligent, poor, or rich. We all begin our lives as helpless infants and, if we’re lucky, progress toward independent adulthood only to grow even older. This is the aspect of diversity that my project is exploring.
This year, Judy Peppers, an employee of the McLean County Nursing Home (MCNH), and I are collaborating on a project to provide musical entertainment to the residents of the MCNH as well as my experiencing a side of the age spectrum that most people are unaware of.
Judy explained to me on my first tour of the building, that the McLean County Nursing Home is the place where elderly come when they run out of money or when they can no longer take care of themselves due to physical or mental deterioration. Because of this, their "freedoms" or "rights" to do certain things have been curbed.
Most of the residents cannot leave the building alone; though as I found out on my first visit, this does not stop them from trying. Because of the limited space in each of the rooms, the residents can’t bring all of their belongings with them. Meals and how much of each meal each person eats are carefully measured and documented, as are distributed medications.
In short, people who once had full control over their lives lose a lot of it once they move into the nursing home.
Most of the younger generations overlook that the elderly had been young once too. The elderly have experienced life and hardships just like the rest of us have.
Yet it seems to me that because the elderly are often less visible in society, we take for granted that they are ones who forged the world that we live in today. We forget that they are the reason we are here today. We forget that one day we will be THAT generation.
Having been an avid musician for much of my life, I am very much aware of the connecting power music has on everyone. Also, including other young people from my generation with the opportunity to interact with the older generation was one of my goals for my project - it makes my peers aware of how diverse our community is and how unobservant we often are of people around us.
Music is a key way to establish a connection with someone. We listen to it, create it, perform it, and critique it. Music often communicates what words cannot.
Toward the end of one of my visits at MCNH, we came across an elderly woman sitting on a chair in the hallway. Judy introduced her as Melba. Melba vigorously shook my hand and immediately asked about my future plans for college and in no time at all told me that she had once worked in the telecommunications industry. Her friend sitting next to her was quiet and less extroverted. As I explained our plans for musical entertainment, both became excited.
"What kind of music do you guys enjoy, classical?" I asked. "Something with a beat! Something we can dance to!" Melba exclaimed. "Jazz? How about Count Basie?" I offered. They looked at me dubiously. I tried again; "How about Duke Ellington?" At this name they both looked up excitedly. Melba grasped my hand, "Yes! Duke Ellington!"
At that moment, Melba, an elderly woman that I had never met before, nor knew anything about, had something in common with me. These connections are what I hope our two generations can forge and what we hope this project will only begin to accomplish through music.
- Jessica
Veteran Scholar

McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   16043 Dorado Road Bloomington, IL 61705