Seniors Give, Seniors Receive

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Most high school kids don’t elect to spend 10-plus hours a week working with senior citizens after school lets out – especially when it is challenging restaurant work and no tipping is involved.

The 122 kids who work at the two restaurants that are part of Wind Crest Retirement Community in Highlands Ranch aren’t most high school kids, though.

And despite the fact there are no tips at the end of the day, there are many other perks involved with working at Wind Crest. Chief among those, according to the students, is building lasting relationships with the residents.

And then there are the annual scholarships that the residents fund for student employees who maintain a high enough GPA while also logging a minimum of 1,000 hours over the course of a two-year period. This spring there were 19 area graduates who were awarded $4,000 scholarships, money that will be paid directly to their institution of choice on a $500-per-semester basis.

According to Wind Crest executive director Craig Erickson, shortly after opening in 2007, a group of residents approached some of the higher-ups at the community and asked if they could help start a scholarship fund. The administration didn’t hesitate.  

Because there is a no-tipping policy at Wind Crest, Erickson said the scholarship fund is a great way for residents to show their appreciation for the service they receive from the teenagers on a daily basis. Residents have raised $89,261 for the fund this year, already socking some money away in the bank for next year’s recipients.

“We have a number of retired schoolteachers, administrators and college professors who live at Wind Crest,” Erickson said. “They understand the rising costs of higher education and are very generous in their support of our scholarship fund.” 

According to Erickson, residents regularly say that the interaction with the high school employees is one of the best highlights of living at the community, and that students have been known to swing by on prom night to introduce their dates and show off their prom dresses for their favorite residents. 

“You really get a sense of family of working here,” said Kaitlin Paul, a 2012 Columbine graduate who will attend Seattle Pacific University to study business on one of the scholarships awarded. “You hear a lot of really cool stories, and you create amazing relationships which (will) last a long time. The residents actually come to our graduation parties and write us birthday cards. It’s really a great job.”

“My parents and I always talk about how it’s so much more rewarding than working at somewhere like Forever 21 or a gas station where you are not going to really get anything out of it besides the pay,” said Tara Collins, a four-year employee and ThunderRidge graduate who is headed to the Daniels School of Business at the University of Denver in the fall. “Here you learn life lessons from talking to the elders and they are always teaching us responsibility and confidence and how to lead lives that are rewarding. It’s so nice to know we have had such an impact on their lives as they have had such an impact on ours as well.

“We have so much gratitude to them for giving us such a precious gift. That’s $4,000 I don’t have to pay back. That’s not pocket change and it’s just something I can’t say thank you enough for. I graduated (high school) a semester early so that I had time to work two jobs and apply for scholarships because my parents can’t afford to pay for my college. To get a $4,000 scholarship just for working here is absolutely amazing.”