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TTU News

Jennifer Golz, a Tennessee Tech University English instructor, has been honored with the Tennessee Health Care Association’s “Better Life Award.” The award recognizes the accomplishments of an individual not affiliated with the nursing home profession who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of long-term care.

Golz, who was nominated by Melinda Bilbrey, admissions coordinator at Masters Health Care Center, accepted the award at a special THCA awards gala in Nashville.

“Every day, facility caregivers and thousands of volunteers and community members work hard to improve the quality of life for the state’s elderly and disabled nursing home patients,” said THCA Executive Director Mike Cole. “THCA’s Awards of Excellence program is our organization’s way of honoring these dedicated and selfless individuals.”

As reflected by the award, dozens of people, young and old, can say Golz has shown them the way to a better life.

Since Golz, who teaches English 1020, began asking her students to volunteer at local health care centers at least 10 hours each semester, the students say they are more compassionate, appreciative, humble and thankful.

“Most 18-year-old students are not in touch with their mortality, and working with the elderly makes them realize the importance of family, relationships and of making the most of life,” she said.

Golz’s volunteer work requirement came in response to students who wanted to write about real life in their essays. She suspects her students meant they wanted to write about their friends and their hobbies, but she decided to introduce them to the real world of volunteer work.

“After the first year, I saw students benefiting more deeply from volunteering with the elderly,” she explained. “They are in a position of serving and respecting the elderly while sharing experiences with them.”

Lynn Drew, activities director for Masters Heath Care Center says the students have also provided valuable one-on-one interaction with younger patients in the facility.

“Jennifer’s students give our residents individual attention,” said Drew. “Whether it’s reading, singing, playing board games or video games, the students come in and give others that very important gift of attention.”

Golz says most students put in more than 10 hours, volunteering to pay bills and run errands. She said one student even made a trip from West Tennessee to Cookeville with his mother during a break to visit a sick resident who had become his friend. At minimum, an average class of 25 puts in 250 hours each semester.

“Students learn that the generation gap is not as great as it may seem, and that the elderly are just like them with experiences and dreams similar to theirs, only they live in older bodies now,” said Golz.

To make sure those lessons stick and to fulfill her primary goal as an English teacher, Golz has each student keep a journal during the semester and write essays covering issues about the elderly and reflections on their volunteer experiences.

“The energy that transfers from my students to their elderly friends fills a need that is so great,” Golz said.

Golz received her award in front of more than 300 attendees at this year’s THCA gala in Nashville. The THCA includes more than 300 facilities with a combined total of more than 33,000 patients. Members include nursing homes of all types — privately owned, government-operated and nonprofit — as well as some assisted care living facilities.