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Friendship Village resident Lou Ostrand working with ELSA student Grace Garbe

“Epic!” said Avi Goldstein, describing the New Life for Old Bags program at Friendship Village in Schaumburg. Avi is a student in the Elmhurst Learning Success Academy (ELSA), a program for young adults with developmental disabilities at Elmhurst College. New Life for Old Bags is a volunteer initiative that residents of Friendship Village retirement community adopted, creating sleeping mats for the homeless from recycled plastic grocery bags. Over the last several weeks the ELSA students have been visiting Friendship Village to learn the program. They plan to bring New Life for Old Bags back to Elmhurst College to start their own program there.

Friendship Village residents began New Life for Old Bags almost three years ago. The project caught the attention of NBC News and was featured in a Making a Difference segment with Art Norman.

Barbara Chin, an adjunct professor with ELSA had heard about New Life for Old Bags at her church, and in researching it online, came across the NBC piece. She called Friendship Village and was invited by Jeannette Magdaleno, manager of lifelong learning and volunteer services to bring her students to the community to learn from the residents. “This was a good way for the students to work with seniors, as well as open themselves up to new opportunities,” she said. The students have now worked with the residents twice, and Chin reported, ‘This has exceeded my expectations. The kids love visiting with the residents and we’re going to keep coming back.”

ELSA participant Grace Garbe is an international student from Nigeria. “This is a good experience. I want to go back to Nigeria and help my mom do this for the homeless in Nigeria. It will help them and is a good opportunity to use recycled bags. It helps give back to people,” she said.

An added perk is the relationship building inherent in the collaboration. “I met a good best friend here. I saw Lou (Ostrand) on TV from the news story we watched and learned her name. Now she’s my best friend,” said Grace.

“It’s a project that just keeps getting better,” said Jeannette. “Initially, it was a great project for the residents who love doing volunteer work, while keeping plastic bags out of landfills and providing sleeping mats for the homeless. Now, we’ve got this added piece of working with the ELSA students. The residents enjoy working with the young people, and the students are getting so much out of the relationship as well.”

“This feels epic and strong,” concluded Avi.

NBC returned to tape an additional segment about the project, now that the ELSA students have joined in. Click here to view the report by Sabrina Santucci.

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