The Importance of Intergenerational Programming
Posted on October 3, 2014 by Jesse Hazel
The residents of our community absolutely love young people. Sometimes I joke that they only like young people, puppies, and babies. Of course, that's an exaggeration but there is an element of truth there. Whenever I bring young people into the community, even the most introverted residents come out of their shells and light up with joy.
Intergenerational programming is vitally important for several reasons: seniors relish seeing the joy, imagination and innocence of youth and even residents who don’t normally participate in events tend to get involved. And, as a bonus, young people benefit from the experience of socializing with older adults.
As a teenager, I had very little exposure to seniors. I knew my parents, of course, and they were in their late 40s, which I thought was really old at the time. I also had three grandparents, all of whom were practically ancient to me. Although I loved, adored and visited my grandparents every Sunday, they were the only older adults I knew. As a young man, I was afraid of senior citizens.
However, through a group I belonged to at the time, I traveled to retirement communities and nursing homes to perform skits, sing songs, and – gasp – even talk with the older adults living there. I was forced to face my fears head-on and I learned very quickly that older adults have a lot of wisdom, humor and love to share. Those experiences changed my life forever. Now, 20 years later, part of my job as Engage Life Director is to provide opportunities for older adults to share time with young people.
To celebrate Active Aging Week, I recently invited a local Girl Scout troop to our community for a friendly Wii Bowling competition with the residents. For a few weeks prior to this fun evening, I talked about it with the residents and by the time the night approached, there was a great sense of excitement and anticipation around the community.
Six pre-teen Girl Scouts and their troop leaders arrived as the residents were finishing their dinners. Word quickly spread that the scouts were in the building and meals were quickly devoured in order to get the party started on time at 6 pm. With six Girl Scouts and five residents plus myself participating, we played three games, with two residents and two Girl Scouts for each game. The event was filled with lots of laughs, strikes, cheers, spares, clapping, smiles, and even a few gutter balls. So, who won? I honestly didn't keep score. I like to think everyone involved that night was a winner, including the two residents who rarely leave their apartments for anything other than meals. They decided to watch the competition from the back of the room with huge smiles on their faces.
Encouraging participation from ordinarily reserved residents, seeing the joy and smiles that young people bring to seniors, and potentially changing the lives of the young people involved are just a few of the reasons why intergenerational programming is so valuable. Whether it’s a Wii Bowling competition between residents and Girl Scouts, a joint letter writing campaign for soldiers between a youth group and residents, a family movie night, an opportunity for children to trick-or-treat in the community, or any other activity, the importance of intergenerational programming cannot be overstated. And who knows? It may change one person's life forever.