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In the 19thcentury, multiple generations living under one roof used to be commonplace. Of course, most people didn’t live beyond their early 60s, so about the time that grandpa or grandma was slowing down on the contribution they could make to the farm or business, the kids were old enough to fill the gap, all working and living in very close proximity to one another. In the 100+ years since then much has changed about the way we live and work and today the generations can be quite segregated in much that we do.
Opportunities for elders to interact with younger generations has primarily been a function of how and when they could see their grandchildren. However, in our increasingly mobile society, both here and abroad, many of those grandchildren are being raised hundreds or thousands of miles from their grandparents. Add to that the increasingly large number of solo agers who do not have kids, and the potential for even greater segregation of the generations looms greater than ever. Typical senior housing, senior tour groups, and community senior centers serve many purposes and have been a boon to the lifestyle of older adults, but they do little or nothing to interweave the generations.
In the past ten years a number of voices have arisen to challenge the wisdom of that segregationist trend and help us as a society reverse our thinking a bit, especially in how we envision both older adults’ available time and living situations and younger peoples’ needs and ambitions. Marc Freedman, in his 2018 book, How to Live Forever, the Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, posed the following questions for baby boomers to consider as they become the new elders:
1. How will I go from being the recipient of love and support from a string of elders to being one of the givers?
2. What lessons can I learn from the mentors I’ve been lucky enough to have?
3. Can I be as good at giving as receiving?
A number of notable organizations today exist to promote intergenerational cooperation and bonding. Generations United, an organization that promotes intergenerational programs and spaces throughout the country, envisions “a world that values and engages all generations.” They recognize the need for older and younger generations to learn how to live and work together and respect one another throughout the lifespan. They also recognize the increasing number of “grandfamilies,” (grandparents raising their grandchildren) and devote much of their website space to stories for and about this growing family structure.
LiveWell San Diego is a regional effort to bring the generations together in that local area. They do it through a collective effort in which recognized partners contribute time and resources to programs throughout the county. Partners include health care providers, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, school districts, cities, tribal governments, and military or veterans organizations. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in your backyard (SIYB) is an example of a program sponsored by LiveWell San Diego. The event provides an opportunity for students to interact with STEM professionals and give them access to positive role models in the scientific fields. In developing LiveWell, San Diego has provided a great model for other cities to follow.
One fairly new, but very exciting, company in this space is Seniors4Seniors. They are a nonprofit corporation that fosters meaningful connections between high school students and older adults in senior residential communities. Eric Peterson is the founder of the company, and runs it along with his father, John. Eric noticed that older adults in senior communities wanted to be a part of the greater community and give back what they know and can do. Having spent time with both young people and older adults, he envisioned programming that would bring the two generations together; hence, Seniors4Seniors was born.
In a totally different vein, UpSideHom also brings together the generations––for housing opportunities. It’s a novel concept, currently operating in South Florida, with plans to expand to other states. Their proposition is to offers older adults who don’t want to maintain their own private homes the opportunity to live independently without being in a “facility,” and at a more affordable cost. UpSideHom runs and manages two- and three-bedroom apartments, leases each bedroom to an older adult and manages all maintenance, housekeeping and utility costs. The apartments are in amenity-rich, vibrant, multi-generational complexes, so even though all bedrooms are leased to seniors, there are multiple opportunities to interact with people of all ages within the building and the surrounding neighborhood.
It’s no secret today that the generations need each other and each can expand their worldview through connections with people of varying ages. Society benefits as well.
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