The Benefits of Intergenerational Programs (page 3)
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.
Examples of Intergenerational Programs
Young Serving Old: Friendly visiting in homes or senior living facilities; home services; teaching computer skills or English as a second language; and service learning projects such as oral histories.
Older Adults Serving the Young: Mentoring programs; child care centers with older adult staff or volunteers; teen parenting guidance; tutoring and telephone reassurance.
Older Adults and the Young Serving Together: Performing/visual arts programs; family support programs; environmental
preservation and community service.
Older Adults and the Young Sharing Sites: Intergenerational community centers; childcare centers in senior housing and senior centers in schools and libraries.
Benefits for Older Adults
Studies show that active and engaged older adults remain in better health. Older adults who volunteer live longer and with better physical and mental health than their non-volunteering counterparts.11
Enhance Socialization: Older adults want to remain productive and engaged in the community. A way to prevent isolation in their later years is to increase interaction with children and youth.12 Forty-five percent of Americans working in retirement say they want to work with youth.13
Stimulate Learning: Older adults learn new innovations and technologies from their younger counterparts. They want to continue to use the skills they have acquired in their lifetimes as well as acquire new ones.Motivation and commitment to intergenerational programs comes when they feel they have taken part in their development.14
Increase Emotional Support: Regular participation in structured social and productive activities and membership in large social networks have been shown to independently benefit health and functional outcomes as people age.15
Improve Health: Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less reliant on canes, and performed better on a memory test than their peers.16 Also, older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments experience more positive effect during interactions with children than they did during non-intergenerational activities.17
Benefits for Youth and Children
Volunteerism and civic engagement among youth is very strong today. Being involved in the community has many benefits including developing skills, values, and a sense of empowerment, leadership, and citizenship.
Improve Academic Performance: Children build their foundation for reading and related activities from kindergarten through third grade, playing an important role in literacy development.18 In schools where older adults were a regular fixture (volunteers working 15 hours per week) children had more improved reading scores compared to their peers at other schools.19
Enhance Social Skills: Interacting with older adults enables youth to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, positive attitudes towards aging, a sense of purpose and community service.20 Volunteering also promotes good self-esteem. Young children who interact with older adults in a co-located facility, or shared site, experienced
higher personal and social development by 11 months compared to children in non-intergenerational facilities.21
Decrease Negative Behavior: Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school.22
Increase Stability: Children and youth gain positive role models with whom they can interact on a regular basis. They develop many positive relationships to civic attitudes and behaviors including volunteering habits, sense of efficacy and trust.23
Benefits for the Community
Strengthen Community: Intergenerational programs bring together diverse groups and networks and help to dispel inaccurate and negative stereotypes. Sharing talents and resources help to create a unified group identity. Children, youth, and older adults are less alienated while the community recognizes that they can be contributing members of society. These programs also help preserve historical and cultural traditions, enhance community spirit and strengthen partnerships among community
organizations and individuals.
Maximize Human Resources: Intergenerational community service programs can multiply human resources by engaging older adults and youth as volunteers in different types of opportunities and populations.
Encourage Cultural Exchange: Intergenerational programs promote the transmission of cultural traditions and values from older to younger generations, helping to build a sense of personal and societal identity while encouraging tolerance.
Maximize Financial Resources: When groups representing young and old approach local funders, they have a better chance of response because funders can see a broader use of their investments. Intergenerational programs can save money and stretch scarce resources by sharing sites and/or resources.
Expand Services: Intergenerational community service programs can expand the level of services to meet more needs and address more issues.
Inspire Collaboration: Intergenerational programs can unite community members to take action on many different types of issues that address human needs across the generations.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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