On Wednesday, California released its new Master Plan for Aging with a vision for healthy, engaged aging for all residents. With the range of intergenerational opportunities in this plan, these recommendations have the potential to efficiently and effectively serve multiple populations at once – saving taxpayer funds and maximizing the benefit to all generations.
Two areas in the plan explicitly call for intergenerational efforts: activating community centers and other public spaces, and volunteerism.
First, the plan calls for co-locating parks and community centers that offer programming for all ages, as well as co-locating child and adult care, youth and adult centers, and schools and adult centers. Not only does co-location create cost efficiencies, it also opens a site to multiple funding and revenue streams.
But the promise of these shared sites lies in intergenerational engagement. Old and young aren’t just served at these locations, but also can to serve each other and build relationships that strengthen the whole community. Our reports with Generations United on intergenerational shared sites are full of case studies that show how effective these arrangements can be. For example, ONEgeneration in Van Nuys hosts both childcare and a senior day center with facilitated interactions throughout the day, which has resulted in improved socio-emotional development for the children and a sense of purpose for the adults – which is linked to better health outcomes. At community centers, programs like Sages & Seekers that pair an older “Sage” with a high-school “Seeker” can create structured opportunities for different generations to connect and understand each other’s worldview.
Second, the plan calls for increased levels of volunteerism among older adults. Nonprofits and civic institutions have long benefited from their time and expertise, and our own research has shown that they’re often more reliable and stay with an organization longer than their younger peers. We can and should leverage this dedication on behalf of our state’s youth, as organizations like Reading Partners and School on Wheels have for years. Efforts like UCLA’s Generation Xchange has created an even more intensive model, working with LAUSD schools to train and place older adult volunteers in classrooms for 15 hours a week –resulting in tangible health improvements for the adults and improved test scores for the children. As for a potential partnership with libraries to share Elder Stories, the Koreatown Youth & Community Center’s Koreatown Storytelling Project is a perfect model that empowers student journalists to bring those stories to their community.
In addition to the explicit calls for intergenerational programs, there are many additional opportunities to bring the generations together:
Housing: While the plan rightly mentions accessory dwelling units and duplexes to support multi-generational families, models like Silvernest (which allows older adults to age in place by facilitating roommate matches, which can provide affordable housing options for students and young adults) or even Bridge Meadows (an intergenerational living community for foster youth and adoptive families and older adults) should be promoted as well.
Healthcare Workforce: In addition to geriatric workforce development programs already in place, models like [email protected], which provides a safe setting for adults with early-stage dementia to socialize with UCLA students, can spark interest in gerontology while serving an immediate need.
Social Isolation: The plan calls for increased support to both friendly calling programs and internet access for older adults. Both go a long way toward addressing social isolation. In addition, internet connectivity allows older adults to access virtual programming that is likely to continue even after the Covid-19 crisis comes to an end, including intergenerational programs and volunteer opportunities that have flourished during this time.
As the events of last week have shown, coming together around a shared vision for our communities has never been more important. Intergenerational programs can help make that possible, and our state should take advantage of every opportunity to make our Master Plan for Aging a plan for all of us.
Trent Stamp is the CEO of The Eisner Foundation in Los Angeles, the family foundation of Michael and Jane Eisner and the only U.S.-based foundation solely dedicated to supporting intergenerational solutions to society’s challenges.