Young people volunteering to help the elderly isn’t a new concept. Even Bart and Lisa Simpson spent some time, for better or worse, with Grandpa Abe in his retirement home. But young men, women, and children today are doing more than simply reading out loud to a bedridden resident or entertaining on the common-room piano. Many intergenerational activities, some quite innovative, go on every day, and they don’t just give people the warm fuzzies -- they have health benefits for all involved.
Here are some ways the young and the elderly are collaborating around the world, to the benefit of both generations.
My New College Roommate
In exchange for free rent, a group of college students in the Netherlands moved into a retirement home where they devote 30 hours a month or more to helping the elderly. The idea has spread to other senior homes in Holland, and has taken root in other countries, including France and the U.S. A program at the Judson Retirement Communities in Cleveland, OH has resident students providing companionship and art therapy. Cynthia H. Dunn, Judson’s president and CEO, reports a happy result: “Many of the students say they feel that the residents are an extension of their own family.”
Universities in other U.S. cities are adopting the idea as a way to ease overcrowding in student housing. A small group of Chicago students receiving free private bedrooms in a senior facility are expected to spend 20 hours a week “doing light housekeeping, grocery shopping and giving computer lessons.”
Meanwhile, New York University is halving select students’ housing costs in a pilot program that places them in local senior citizens’ spare bedrooms.
Pre-School Is In Session
The Intergenerational Learning Center in West Seattle, WA locates a preschool within a senior care center. Children and residents have lunch together and share activities including music, dancing, art, and storytelling. Filmmaker Evan Briggs, who documented the program, noted that the residents did a "complete transformation in the presence of the children. Moments before the kids came in, sometimes the people seemed half alive, sometimes asleep. It was a depressing scene. As soon as the kids walked in for art or music or making sandwiches for the homeless or whatever the project that day was, the residents came alive."
A group of teenagers in California launched Wired for Connections/Mentor Up, a club at their high school where students receive sensitivity training and teach senior citizens to use modern technology. The seniors bring their devices and receive hands-on instruction, and the students get community service credits.
Reading Is Fundamental
Learning can go in the other direction too. Residents of a senior living community in Virginia regularly visit and read to students at a nearby elementary school. The program is so popular that students often “adopt” favorite seniors for a whole school year.
The Speaking Exchange project helps Brazilian students learn English by connecting them with American seniors via video chats over the internet. As you can see in the video, it not only brings elders and students together, programs like this can also help bring the world together.
Green Thumbs For Everyone
Intergenerational bonding can take place outdoors, too. The University of Illinois Extension’s Master Gardener Program links elderly gardening enthusiasts with kids. “Gardening is classified as a life skill because it not only allows you to grow food for yourself and family, but it also incorporates many skills such as math, reading, science, and even history,” says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Bruce J. Black.
Learning About Life
The Radclyffe School in Oldham, UK has a long-running program where 12-year-old pupils meet one-on-one with local seniors to ask them about their childhood, their work, their hobbies. “It helps pupils develop their social skills,” special education teacher Deborah Mason told The Guardian. “They learn about life and older people, and widen their horizons. It’s about getting them to realise that older people still have a lot to offer.
Hospitality At The Hospital
A Fort Lauderdale, FL program called Tender Loving Care brings high school students into hospitals to provide companionship for elderly patients suffering from confusion, hospital-acquired delirium, or just loneliness -- “to help make being in the hospital a little more like not being the hospital,” according to registered nurse Candice Hickman.
Share Your Stories
Heard of any interesting and inspiring ways people are bridging the generation gap? Perhaps you’re involved in some uplifting effort to lift the spirits of those who might be lonely. Let us know here.