High School Students Connect With Riderwood Retirees’ Intriguing Lives

High school students who work in Riderwood’s five restaurants have become uniquely connected to the intriguing lives of the residents they serve by interviewing the residents and writing about them as part of a campus-wide essay contest.  The 21 essays are a ‘grassroots’ anthropological study of sorts, revealing how residents have made  – and continue to make — this world a better place.  Moreover, they demonstrate the residents’ resiliency and their resolve to seize each day as its own special moment of mystery and wonder.

Student Deena Winley interviewed resident Trudy Schonberger, who was a Jewish girl in Austria when the Holocaust began. Schonberger became an adult quickly  at the age of nine when she faced the horror of Adolf Hitler’s plan to eliminate the entire Jewish population. Deena writes in her winning essay:

“Trudy’s routine suddenly changed when one day the principal at her school came into the classroom and announced that “All Jewish girls had to get their books and leave immediately. “No Jews Allowed.” Trudy was shocked. It was then she began to realize that these new changes were here to stay.””


Deena’s essay continues:

“There was even more confusion when Trudy’s family was separated. First, her father Hugo and older brother Eric were arrested along with all other Jewish men ages sixteen and up (They later escaped and were reunited).”

Deena’s heartfelt essay follows the many unexpected turns Schonberger encountered during the Nazi reign of terror  – recounting the time Schonberger’s mother, Irene, stood up to Nazi officers and told them she was taking her children to a safe place:


“In her years as an adult, Trudy not only dealt with her own memories of prejudice in Europe, but she also watched as the Civil Rights Movement unfolded in the U.S.  Seeing the impact of discrimination and segregation on African Americans only reminded Trudy of what she had experienced in her own life…”I think prejudice exists because people think very little of themselves,” says Trudy. People of all colors and backgrounds have to fight for their rights to get in and fight to stay in. Trudy says that life has taught her to accept adversity…Trudy has learned to stand up for what is right. “When you’re faced with problems you either go under, or it makes you a stronger person.” And Trudy Schonberger is just that.”

The essay contest was promoted to the students throughout Riderwood’s restaurants via fliers and reminders by management.  Residents learned about the essay contest  via closed circuit Riderwood TV programming, their monthly meeting with Administration, and through table talks during the dinner hours. The contest was judged by Magdy Mishraky, Director of Dining Services,  Larry Snowberger, Assistant Director of Dining Services, and Michael Alfaro, Staff Development Manager

First Place winners received a congratulatory card and a $150 visa gift card.  The following students won the essay contest:

Francisco Flores, Deena Winley, Alicia Claggett, Khoanguyen (Benny) Troung, and Grace Milingi

“This essay contest demonstrated to our students that our residents have rich life experiences that they are more than willing to share,” said Michael Alfaro, Staff Development Manager. “Our students are interested in knowing more about our residents and this contest provided a reason to step outside their comfort zone and get to know our residents as more than just names and faces.”

“As for our residents, the essay contest showcased the talents of our student population and their eagerness to learn,”  he said. “Relationships were built both ways and the students who entered all said that they have now found new friends and mentors.”

src:  Riderwood