The Power of Intergenerational Programs

Editoräó»s Note äóñ This is a guest blog by a young writer Alexis Bonari. We are happy to have her contribute. Enjoy!

As a recent college graduate whose experience with grandparents has been limited by distance, I can say that volunteering at nursing and retirement homes has been enriching. But äóìvolunteeringäó implies a one-way street, and that was never the case with college kids and baby boomers. Thereäó»s a lot for college students to learn from the older and wiser crowd, and intergenerational programs are much more indicative of the symbiotic relationship that can exist between generations. This is an important idea to cultivate, especially with the understanding that modern society includes many distanced relationships between generations, a phenomenon that can negatively impact both young and old individuals.

How Intergenerational Programs Can Help

In a study of school-based intergenerational programs conducted by the UNSECO Institute for Education, the programs are defined as äóìsocial vehicles that create purposeful and ongoing exchange of resources and learning among older and younger generations.äó The most important factor in these settings is engagement, and with the current lack of involvement between the old and the young, most schools enjoy success with these programs because students are naturally engaged. When kids are deprived of relationships with older individuals, they can develop negative attitudes toward aging that are automatically counteracted when they get to spend time with baby boomers. Most current programs focus on using the strengths of one generation to meet the needs of another, an idea that can be highly effective on both sides of the generational divide. Baby boomers have knowledge, experience, and great stories for kids, and students often contribute energy, creativity, and amusement for seniors in return.

Spotlight Programs

The following are some of the most successful and interesting ongoing intergenerational programs. Let them inspire you and be sure to check with local schools and universities for information on programs near you.

Neighbors Growing Together is a wide-ranging program at Virginia Tech and is just one of several intergenerational programs run at the university. By combining its Adult Day Services program with the Child Development Center for Learning and Research, Virginia Tech has created a truly symbiotic relationship between generations. Activities like taking walks together, making music, engaging in creative crafts, and playing games characterize this program and enable its participants to enjoy the company of a distinctly different generation while learning and growing to appreciate one another.

At Pennsylvania State University, the Intergenerational Outdoor School Program brings fourth graders and older adults together for four days to learn about nature and caring for the environment. Discovery walks help kids learn to appreciate the environment, while senior citizens enjoy sharing their knowledge with a younger generation.

The Florida Intergenerational Orchestra of America invites musicians aged 5 to 88 to participate in performances that bring generations together in a unique and rewarding way. Founded by Lorraine Marks, it offers a variety of levels from Beginner to Advanced and is conducted in a workshop format that attracts both students and snow birds.

Editoräó»s Note: I would add that The Harvard School of Public Health-Met Life Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civil Engagement had this to say about such ventures:

“Community based initiatives that bridge the generations should receive special attention. The programs build community by integrating the old with the young, transmitting knowledge and experience to future generations and reinforcing the value of people of all ages. Studies have found that young people in such programs show measurable improvements in school attendance, attitudes toward school and the future, and attitudes toward elders. Adult volunteers report substantial benefits to themselves: the satisfaction of sharing their experience, feeling useful. And giving back to the community.”

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She spends much of her days blogging about Education and CollegeScholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.