Older adults in our society often feel a lack of purpose, feelings of inadequacy and invisibility, and a sense of no longer being relevant in our society. Additionally, American society has become more age-segregated, providing little opportunity for interaction between generations. Family members often live far from each other and are losing their natural intergenerational composition.
In our communities, there are many schools which continue to see diminishing resources and increasing numbers of students in their classrooms, decreasing the amount of one-on-one attention given to their kids.
One antidote to these issues is creating intergenerational programming for seniors and school children. Intergenerational programs offer opportunities for participants to interact and engage with each other. They deliberately and purposefully unite different generations in common activities. Both generations are able to share their talents and points of view, and develop a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship. Intergenerational programs provide a venue for regular contact, while encouraging people of different generations to learn from and advocate for one another.
Our EngAGE Across Generations program meets the criteria of Generations United for a successful intergenerational program through sustained and purposeful engagement of our seniors and their partners in school classrooms. Older Americans have a demonstrated history of high volunteerism, however, they (like young people) prefer meaningful and substantial volunteer opportunities, rather than those that merely take up their time. There is a strong societal benefit to having seniors volunteer with children as role models, tutors, and mentors, and a significant unmet need for creative programming among youth in both urban and rural communities. On the other hand, by creating an opportunity for intergenerational exchange, children serve as a resource for seniors by providing companionship and increasing feelings of connectivity.
Programming at EngAGE focuses on curriculum designed to connect generations through arts and learning opportunities, breaking down barriers created in our society by age. We use storytelling, history, arts classes, gardening, food, and other unifying programs to have seniors and kids realize how much they have in common. We have developed more than 1,200 class hours of programming linking seniors and kids in their communities, and produced dozens of culminating events where members of the community saw the result and were inspired by what was happening in their neighborhood, changing the way people think about the age divide.
In addition, EngAGE helped create and now serves Vermont Family Apartments, a community designed to serve grandparents acting as parents in South Central Los Angeles; Pacific Avenue Arts Colony, all ages arts housing in San Pedro; and ACE/121 (Glendale Arts Colony), providing homes for three generations of artists – professional older artists, younger professional artists and families with kids involved in the arts – built in partnership with the Glendale YMCA, with a public art gallery co-curated by EngAGE and the City of Glendale Arts Commission.