A memorable event, for students and senior citizens alike

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

On Tuesday, Nilsa Rodriguez listened to festive music, ate macaroni salad and socialized with Northeastern students, who played dominos with their new friend from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

Rodriguez was among more than three-dozen senior citizens who enjoyed the Latino/a Student Cultural Center’s sixth annual barbecue on Forsyth Street. The students stage the event for the benefit of seniors from the La Alianza Hispana Adult Day Health and Drop-in Center, a Roxbury-based nonprofit for the Latino community.

When asked what she will remember most about the festive afternoon, Rodriguez, who was seated comfortably in a lawn chair, joked, “I’m going to remember to come back next year.”

The annual barbecue marks the only occasion all year in which nearly all of the center’s senior citizens get a chance to enjoy the outdoors, said a teary-eyed Maria Elisa Avellaneda, the activities coordinator for drop-in center.

“This is the best day of the year for the seniors,” she said. “It’s important for their independence and health to be able to interact with other people.”

The elderly have built a familial-like bond with Northeastern students, noted Rebecca Veira, assistant director of the Latino/a Student Cultural Center (LSCC).

As she put it, “The seniors get used to interacting with the students and are reminded that they have family at the [LSCC] whenever they need it. They can speak [Spanish] here, and feel comfortable and welcome.”

For student volunteers, the barbecue bridged a cultural and generational divide.

“I’m reminded of my grandparents,” said Jennifer Sanchez, who was raised in Dorchester by parents who hail from Honduras and Puerto Rico. The junior, who is taking a combined major in communication studies and cinema studies, said, “You can feel [the seniors’] love and energy.”

The barbecue had the feel of a backyard party in the middle of the summer, said Diego Pena, a junior chemistry major. The outing, he said, also gave him a chance to hone his Spanish-speaking skills.

“I don’t have a lot of time to practice my Spanish,” said Pena, who plans to volunteer at La Alianza.

“Speaking Spanish is like exercising a muscle,” he said. “If you don’t do it, it goes away.”