The Benefits of Intergenerational Programs
In 1963 the first widespread intergenerational program, the Foster Grandparent Program, was created as a component of the “war on poverty.” The program’s primary purpose was to provide opportunities for low-income persons aged 60 and over to provide supportive oneto-one services to children with special or exceptional needs while reducing isolation and poverty among the elders. Since that time, intergenerational programs have evolved to include people of multiple ages and address a broad array of social concerns. Topics covered through intergenerational programming include changes in family structure, drug use, violence, and bridging stereotypes and cultural differences. Generations United, the national organization focused solely on improving lives of children, youth, and older adults through intergenerational strategies, is the central source of information on intergenerational programs and maintains an on-line directory of programs from around the world.
What Are Intergenerational Programs?
Intergenerational Programs are social vehicles that offer younger and older generations the opportunities to interact and become engaged in issues concerning our society.1 These programs purposefully bring together people of different generations in ongoing, mutually beneficial, planned activities, designed to achieve specified program goals. Through
intergenerational programs people of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community. Successful program are based on reciprocity, are sustained and intentional, and involve education and preparation for all ages. Young and old are viewed as assets not problems to be solved.
Why Intergenerational Approaches?
Older People as a Resource: Americans over the age of 65 volunteer more time, an average of 96 hours per year, than any other segment of the population and are often the most reliable and committed volunteers.2 The estimated dollar value of the volunteer time of American adults through volunteer activities and time spent caring for family members in 2000 was equivalent to $239 billion dollars.3 This is, however, a largely undertapped volunteer pool with only 24.8% of older adults volunteering in
2005.4 However, older Americans do not just want to volunteer at things that take up their time, they, like young people, want meaningful and substantial volunteer opportunities.5
Youth as a Resource: Younger volunteers are able to provide companionship to older people and participate in service projects both to assist older adults and to serve alongside older adults to benefit their community. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 38% or an estimated 10.6 million students reported that they have participated in community service. Youth volunteering is at record levels, they are more likely to be very engaged in their communities then their predecessors.7
The Aging Population: The U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years. By 2030, almost 1-out-of-5 Americans, some 72 million people will be 65 years or older. The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.8
Changes in Views of Retirement: 50% of Americans age 50 to 70 are interested in taking jobs – now and in retirement – that help improve quality of life in their communities.9 Change within Families: Family members are living further apart from each other and are losing their natural intergenerational composition.
Age Segregation and Isolation Among Generations: Society has become more age-segregated, providing very little opportunity for interaction between the generations. Intergenerational programs provide a venue for regular contact, while encouraging people of different generations to advocate for one another.10
Gaps in Services Provided to Children and Youth: There is a strong need for tutors, role models, mentors and creative programs for children and youth in urban and rural communities. Gaps in Services Provided to Older People: Increasing numbers of older people with varying supportive needs will require more innovative adult care programs.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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