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EMU Students, VMRC Residents Form Connection Through Reading

November 12, 2019
Categories: Our Community

Since September, EMU graduate student Claire Reilly has been visiting VMRC resident Lila Mae Jantzen once a week to read aloud to her. Quickly discovering a shared interest in the novel about Sherlock Holmes, the pair have been making their way through the book little by little each week.  Claire and Lila Mae are part of a Bibliotherapy internship program pairing Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) students with VMRC residents. Bibliotherapy, the use of books as therapy, has been used in numerous settings but this particular program is modeled after one that was implemented at Clemson University. While the Clemson program focuses solely on preparing aspiring healthcare professionals by enhancing their caregiver and communication skills, the EMU program extends to literature students as well. According to Marti Eads, Professor of English and coordinator of the Bibliotherapy program, “The internship is a way to give literature and healthcare majors a way to enhance their communication skills and job prospects while sharing their love of literature with folks who are sure to enjoy the interaction.”

The benefits are numerous for both the students and the residents. “The students are enjoying their new relationships and learning a great deal about intergenerational friendship, communication in spite of disability, pain management and hope,” said Professor Eads. Senior biology major Rachel Musselman has plans to be a Physician’s Assistant with an emphasis on holistic healing and feels the time together is therapeutic for her as well and offers a “little break from the stressful schedule of school and studying.”  This sentiment is echoed by several other student participants who note feeling happier and more relaxed at the end of a session.                                                                                          

The connections between the pairs extend beyond the enjoyment of reading. Senior Anali Martin and resident Ruth Miller learned they share an interest in embroidery and spend some of their time together discussing and looking over one another’s work. Caroline Lehmen, senior biology major, discovered her resident pairing, Ruth Heatwole, sang at the wedding of Caroline’s grandparents when her grandfather was in medical school at the University of Virginia. It’s clear when talking with participants, both resident and student, that this time together, and the relationships being made, are sure to have a positive lasting impact on everyone involved.


 The five bibliotherapists and VMRC residents include (clockwise from top left) Rachel Musselman and Gladys Brown, Anali Martin and Ruth Miller, 
Claire Reilly and Lila Mae Jantzen, Melissa and Lois Alexander and Caroline Lehmen and Ruth Heatwole

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“The response from the VMRC community of staff and residents has been quite welcoming.  We've enjoyed meeting friends old and new which has been very enriching.”

- New VMRC Resident, 2018