At Village on the Green, residents enjoy connecting regularly with young students, sharing pizza, passing on their knowledge and teaching their Jewish traditions.
The Lifespace community in Longwood, Florida, hosts several intergenerational programs with the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. The programs are among a variety of activities at Lifespace communities that bring together residents and youth, fostering relationships that benefit everyone involved.
In one Village on the Green program, teenagers visit residents every other month for lunch, says Rhonda Kader, the community’s director of life enrichment and engagement.
“They have discussions on Jewish heritage and issues affecting the Jewish community,” Kader says. “They have some lively discussions.”
In another program, called “Home Sweet Home,” young people gathered in the Village on the Green auditorium and pretended it is their home.
“They welcomed our residents into their home and served them bagels and coffee,” Kader says. “The residents were teaching them how to make a home Jewish. Everyone enjoyed special activities, songs, crafts and more.”
Connecting the old and young is valuable to both, says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a D.C.-based nonprofit that works to build links between younger people and seniors.
“The older residents realize that their history, their stories, have a purpose,” says Butts. “They provide those roots that children need so much in understanding their history. It’s a hugely important role for older adults to play.”
The LeadingAge Center for Applied Research is studying the impact of intergenerational programming in senior living. According to the center, such programs can decrease social isolation among older adults in addition to creating strong community partnerships and meaningful civic engagement opportunities.
When high school senior Alexis Dial recently toured Beacon Hill, a Lifespace community in suburban Chicago, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Dial thought she might find a group of seniors sitting around in rocking chairs. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“They had a Wii (video game system) and a lot of clubs,” she says. “They had movies, swimming classes and a cafe.” Dial also discovered how engaging the community’s residents can be.
During the tour and lunch at Beacon Hill, she and fellow sociology students from nearby Walther Christian Academy took part in long conversations with the residents.
“We talked about the Industrial Revolution and civil rights,” Dial says. “It was valuable to see the aging process and how active you can still be later in life.”
Walther students tour Beacon Hill twice annually as part of a program to build connections between generations.
“Each student has a list of questions that they are required to get the answers to before they leave here,” says resident Candace Bishop, one of the organizers of the Beacon Hill event. “They are also encouraged to come up with questions of their own.”
The students often ask about historical events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Bishop says. They also ask about the recent presidential election and changes that might bring about.
“The students are very alert, very concerned and very bright,” Bishop says.
Residents often have questions for the students as well, such as how to prevent cyberbullying.
The contact with students energizes residents, Bishop adds.
“It’s always exciting to talk to bright people of any age,” she says. “As you get older, your world shrinks physically and psychologically. That’s one of the reasons we have so many wonderful projects and programs and initiatives here, so that we can grow instead of stagnate.”
Natalie Brennan, life enrichment and engagement assistant at Beacon Hill, was particularly moved as the Walther students prepared to leave following a meeting last month.
“One of the students, as they were saying goodbye, said, ‘This really changed my perspective, and I’m going to visit with my grandma a lot more now,’” Brennan says.
Dial believes the connections with Beacon Hill residents are valuable.
“I feel like we can learn from each other,” she says. “They can help us and we can help them.”
(In the top photo: Beacon Hill residents Lois and Al Larson enjoy interacting with Walther Christian Academy students.)
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