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How Intergenerational Programs Strengthen Communities

First Posted: Nov 26, 2018 03:49 PM EST

In 2018, the gulf between seniors and youth generations has never been greater. This may seem like a bold statement, but it is undoubtedly true: the advances and changes in culture and technology over the past twenty years have led to a world that is nearly unrecognizable to those who were born in the 1930s. For those who were born in the 1990s, however, a hyper-accelerated reality is the only reality they've ever known.

One shared need between youth and seniors, however, is that of face-to-face interactions and community connection. Kids these days are glued to their smartphones and tablets, reluctant to have a conversation at the kitchen table or on a walk through the neighbourhood. Seniors, on the other hand, sometimes live far away from their families and friends and have trouble with mobility.

If you have an adolescent in your family, you might encourage them to sign up for an intergenerational program and connect with a local senior. Often, these programs can fulfill high school volunteer requirements and allow teens to make a real difference in the lives of the elderly while learning about the "strange and magical time" before Wi-Fi and hoverboards.

If you are in your senior years or know someone who is, encourage them to learn about active senior retirement communities that offer intergenerational programs. Staying active in the community and interacting with folks of all ages and backgrounds has profound implications for mental and physical health, not to mention overall fulfillment.

Building the Intergenerational Bridge

Often this task falls to school administrators or the activities coordinators at a retirement residence. Sometimes an entire classroom will spend time at a local retirement home in order to develop a familiarity with the aging process and share knowledge across generational borders. Kids are blown away by real-life physical photo albums untethered from the Internet and seniors can learn something about the latest trends in culture and technology, as well.

Flipping through a photo album might lead to some illuminating conversations about the past, and a student might be able to help upload old photos to share online!

Whether these visits are for social and physical support, group projects like gardening and baking, sports like badminton and table tennis or creative projects involving story-telling and painting, they tap into a fresh way of looking the world through somebody else's eyes. Kids are incredibly energetic and spontaneous, and seniors have a great deal of wisdom to offer. It's a win-win situation!

Strengthening the Community

Western society in the 21st century seems to be experiencing a bit of a crisis in terms of anxiety and depression rates. Many analysts argue that a major factor for this is the decay of community collaboration and support. Finding something that brings you together with neighbours of all ages and cultural backgrounds helps widen the world and get you out of your head. With all the conveniences of modern technology, it's easy to live a life cut-off from other people. An isolated lifestyle, however, has few benefits and many potential pitfalls. Whether you're young or old, it makes no difference, swapping stories and perspectives and supporting one another has great value.

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