Life Enrichment Coordinator at Retirement Home
Ben Middendorf ’17 helps residents find purpose and happiness
When you ask Ben Middendorf ’17 what stands out about his time at Concordia University, Nebraska, he’s quick to point out three things: it’s where he met his wife Leah (Guenther) Middendorf '18, his studies at Concordia Nebraska confirmed his passion to serve the geriatric community and his time at the university strengthened his faith.
Ben majored in psychology and English and minored in gerontology. He currently works as a life enrichment coordinator at a senior living facility in Kearney, Nebraska.“It’s really powerful to be able to visit with the residents, to hear their stories, to hear about their lives,” he said. “We have residents here who are over 100, and what they’ve gone through, how they’ve gotten through it, their advice for people [is incredible].
Interested in gerontology since high school, Ben became increasingly interested in serving the senior community when he participated in a youth 4-H project that used Skype and other methods to connect seniors to geographically-distant friends and family members. In additional, he said he has always enjoyed interacting with older members of his church community, his grandparents and others. When considering colleges, he discovered that Concordia Nebraska was one of the few colleges that had a gerontology studies program, so he scheduled a visit.
“I toured the campus and fell in love with it,” he said. He recalls his time on campus fondly. “My professors were there for me. I really felt like they knew who I was in class,” he explained. “They were really there to push me to succeed and do well in my vocation.” Ben graduated in December 2017 and married his wife Leah in the summer of 2018.
Ben said he realizes he was blessed to know from a young age what his interests were and what course of study he wanted to pursue. “I think I was probably kind of unique in that,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do from the beginning. [But my professors] helped reinforce that…and let me see other opportunities, as well.”
Gerontology classes at Concordia Nebraska helped Ben prepare for his current work. In the future, he said he may pursue a master’s degree in mental health counseling with an emphasis on geriatric counseling. He said his education at Concordia Nebraska helped him develop a well-rounded way to view the world. “[My classes] didn’t just feel like things that were ticked off in the curriculum, they felt like things that were there to make me better in my vocation,” he explained.
Ben’s time at Concordia Nebraska also helped him develop his faith. “It was really nice to have that opportunity to be able to go to chapel, and to have professors that I could feel comfortable talking with about faith,” he said.
Focusing on a wide variety of activities with residents, Ben’s job allows him to create meaningful opportunities for at the senior living facility. These activities allow residents to reinforce things they have done in the past and highlight things in the present that give them purpose in life. “This is their home,” he said. “This is where they’re living. To give them the opportunity to feel as if their life has purpose is the main thing that all of us here do.”
Ben feels blessed to have the opportunity do this good and important work, realizing what makes residents smile, what makes them happy and what small thing he can do to support them when they feel lonely or sad. “Helping them deal with illness and trouble, [we do] whatever we can do to lighten up their day,” he said.