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Intergenerational programs, where older and younger people are given opportunities to live, work, learn, and/or play together, have been a hot topic lately. And with good reason.
Nancy Henkin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of The Intergenerational Center at Temple University, has described intergenerational programs as integral to the health and happiness of the young and the old—as well as the community as a whole. In her research, spanning her own decades-long career, Dr. Henkin has found convincing evidence that such programs increase participants’ productivity, foster a positive sense of interdependence within the community, and encourage lifelong contributions to a common good. She has noted that the benefits of intergenerational activities are especially transformative for children from low-income families and neighborhoods.
As this concept continues to grow in popularity, I’m seeing more and more wonderful intergenerational programs being rolled out through continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and other retirement communities, and I wanted to share a few examples I have learned about recently.
If your home was on fire, and you could only bring one photograph with you, which one would it be?
This was the question associate professor Roddy MacInnes had his students ask residents of Clermont Park retirement community in Denver…and then answer themselves. Prof. MacInnes, who teaches in the School of Art and Art History at the University of Denver, had the idea for his students to interview these senior living residents about their answer and then photograph the senior with that most-cherished of photos. The new photographs and corresponding stories were then turned into an exhibit, “Personal Histories Photography,” in the art school and also into a book for the project’s participants.
While the assignment uncovered some amazing personal stories, it accomplished a greater outcome: The art students formed lasting bonds with the senior residents of Clermont Park, relationships that most project participants said would endure the test of time. MacInnes explained, “When each person knows each other’s story, then we’re much more compassionate about each other. The project is about love.”
How many college seniors would forsake campus life to move into a retirement home? Well, Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and Deerfield, a nearby senior living community, thought they’d find out. Two years ago, Deerfield launched their artist-in-residence program: A Drake music student is selected to receive free room and board at Deerfield. In return, the student agrees to provide the community’s residents with two concerts a month.
Glenis Nunn, an 89-uear-old resident of Deerfield, had this to say about her community’s new intergenerational program: “We hear so many awful things about young people. And now we see the best things of young people.” She continued, “I think so often young people stereotype anyone that may be over 50…I think they think that we’re all in wheelchairs and not interested in anything. And they find out a whole different aspect.”
Sixth-graders in Botetourt, Virginia, are learning that age is merely a state of mind thanks to The Glebe Club, an intergenerational program developed between Read Mountain Middle School and The Glebe retirement community. Once per month during lunch and PE, the children are bused to the nearby retirement community, where they visit with the same senior. Each get-together features a theme where student and elder share traditions and learn about one another; friendships have quickly flourished.
English teacher Angela Myers, who founded The Glebe Club seven years ago, says the students are always excited when it’s their week to visit their senior friends; many former students have even remained in touch with their buddy at The Glebe.
These and other intergenerational programs help unleash the talents, wisdom, and life experiences of senior living residents for the greater good—and for their own good. But on top of the benefits to seniors’ wellbeing and happiness, these types of initiatives have an added advantage for the retirement communities themselves.
Intergenerational programs naturally appeal to the next generation of socially conscious retirees. By offering residents opportunities to interact with younger people, senior living communities are able to encourage a prospective resident to make the move sooner than they otherwise might—a benefit to the community’s bottom line since younger, healthier residents help offset the costs associated with older, less healthy residents. And that’s a scenario where everyone wins.
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