The median age at Monarch Landing drops significantly each night as the evening shift of dining room servers arrive. Since it opened its doors more than six years ago, Monarch Landing has used students from area high schools and colleges to staff Millstone Restaurant and the adjoining café It's a match made in heaven according to Hilary Wittig, service manager of dining services for Monarch Landing.
The servers work after school through the end of the dinner hour clean-up. In addition to being paid, the students are provided a free meal.
Colleen Gaffney has worked at Monarch Landing since she was 17. Now the 23-year old works almost full time there as she's taking a break from pursuing a degree in elementary education from College of DuPage. "I help out in the café, with happy hour and in the market place in addition to working as a server," she said.
Colleen said that while the hours are convenient and being provided with a free dinner is great, it's the connection with the residents that she really likes the most. "They have such great insight and stories," she said. The residents are also interested and invested in the young people. "They remember things about all of us," Colleen added.
The two generations get the added opportunity to spend time together during Monarch Landing's annual dinner dance and fundraiser and on New Year's Eve. "The servers dance with the residents and it's a lot of fun for everyone. Especially the single ladies who dance with the young men," said Hilary.
Hilary promotes more casual interaction between the students and the residents. "We host a discovery dinner, where one server is selected each month to sit and enjoy dinner with the residents. They talk about their work, family, school, etc. Afterwards we ask for input from them about the dining experience," she said. On the flip side, residents have the opportunity for hands on experience. "A resident gets to work in the kitchen, putting garnishes on the dinner plates before they're served. They get to see how the kitchen works, and interact with the staff," said Hilary. "It's a huge eye-opener for the resident."
While the relationships alone are meaningful, the residents have taken it upon themselves to show their gratitude to and support of the young people. They have established academic scholarships for continuing education to the servers who have worked for at least 750 hours. These are awarded to the students each year that they attend college while working at Monarch Landing. Many of the students return to work there during the school vacations.
Some of the students ultimately go on to pursue related degrees. "Some are going into medicine; one studied personal training is an intern in the fitness center. A lot of the people on the kitchen staff are interested in culinary careers," said Hilary.
Hilary said that everyone benefits from the employment arrangements. "The hours work nicely for the kids and the residents like them being here. It's a good combination. It brings out the good from all sides to have this connection," she said.
Monarch Landing is a maintenance-free retirement community on a scenic 80-acre campus in Naperville, Illinois - named "one of America's best places to live and retire" by Modern Maturity. Monarch Landing is owned by Senior Care Development and managed by Life Care Services. For additional information, visit www.welcometomonarchlanding.com.