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The Case for Intergenerational Programs

“Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, a knowledge of the past, and a sense of the future.” – Margaret Mead

It has only been recently that North Americans have segregated communities based on age. Historically, most cultures can trace traditions in which youth care for elders and elders provide vital care-giving and mentoring roles to young people in the community. Intergenerational programs are social vehicles that offer younger and older generations the opportunities to interact and become engaged in issues concerning our society.16 These programs bring together people of different generations in ongoing, mutually beneficial, activities. Through intergenerational programs, people of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individual and the community.

There are a variety of reasons why intergenerational programs provide significant value:

  1. People over the age of 65 are much more likely to volunteer and have the time to dedicate to community-building activities. Older volunteers contribute the highest number of average annual volunteer hours, with 65-74-year old’s spending on average 231 hours annually engaged in volunteer activities.17
  2. Younger generations provide an excellent source of energy and flexibility to the issues of volunteer sourcing. They can offer volunteer companionship to older people and/or serve alongside their elderly counterparts to benefit their communities.
  3. The population is aging. The proportion of the senior population (aged 65 and older) has been increasing steadily over the past 40 years. From 1971 to 2011 the percentage of seniors grew from 8% to 14%.18 This suggests a growing number of older people who wish to connect and contribute.
  4. Families are living further away from each other and have lost their internal intergenerational component. Community-based programs can provide surrogate grandchild/grandparent opportunities which will continue on past structured programs.
  5. There are major gaps in services provided to children and youth. There is a great need for tutors, role models and mentors. It can also be argued that the perspective provided
    by seniors can contribute to youth mental health.
  6. There are major gaps in the services provided to older people. As the population of the elderly increases, more innovative care programs will be needed.
  7. Intergenerational programs stimulate lifelong learning, care-giving, increase emotional support, community cohesion and improve the health of the elderly. 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.19

Intergenerational activities benefit seniors, youth and communities. Children are exposed to their elders’ life experience, traditions and wisdom. And because of these interactions, adults can expand their social networks and stay physically active, which betters their health outcomes. Communities benefit when all are engaged and feel included. Intergenerational programs help to dispel age-related myths and stereotypes. They can also address societal concerns such as literacy, environmental issues, health, crime prevention, and much more.

Public policies can support intergenerational programs through the promotion of intergenerational civic engagement and encouragement of intergenerational solutions to community issues. Connecting generations through programs and public policies makes sense. Together we are stronger.20

  1.  Generations United (2002). Young and Old Serving Together: Meeting Community Needs Through Intergenerational Partnerships. Washington DC
  2.  Statistics Canada. (2013). Volunteering and Charitable Giving in Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015001-eng.htm.
  3.  Statistics Canada. (2016). http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm.
  4. Carlson M., Seeman T., & Fried L.P. (2000). Importance of Generativity for Healthy Aging in Older Women. Aging Vol.12, No. 2, p. 132-40.
  5. Generations United. (2007). The Benefits of Intergenerational Programs. Washington, DC.

This article is an excerpt from the Wellness & Quality-of-Life Programs for Low-Income Seniors Benchmark sector report and program summary.

The full report is available for download here.