When generations unite, the results often are as inspiring and entertaining as they are engaging and educational. For older adults, volunteering to work with children may seem like an intimidating prospect. But once they start, many find it incredibly rewarding. “It is so wonderful to go over there and see this thundering herd of children going out and giving you hugs and kisses. This is like having grandchildren,” one resident remarked.
As it turns out, intergenerational programs produce real benefits for older adults and children. Everyone wins! The opportunity to learn from and become friends with a buddy who is so different from and yet so like oneself is a life changing experience. We may be from different generations, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds, but we are all people.
Generations United, a nonprofit that created the first widespread intergenerational program in 1963, notes that “older adults who volunteer live longer and with better physical and mental health than their non-volunteering counterparts.” What’s more, they reference numerous studies that document that older adults benefit from intergenerational volunteering through:
Increased emotional support, and
Children reap benefits from intergenerational programs as well. According to Generations United, children gain improved academic performance, enhanced social skills, decreased negative behavior, and increased stability. Naturally, older adults are fully engaged and proud of their volunteer work. Betty, a 92-year-old who volunteers with Eskaton Kids Connection, beamed “I can’t believe how much Victor’s reading has improved!”
Eskaton Kids Connection, which launched in 2009 and is supported through donations, is working with more than 1,200 older adults and children (primarily from low-income communities) in 18 Eskaton communities and 18 classrooms. The impact on children’s lives is palatable. One little girl wrote in a thank you note, “I made a New Best Friend. Her name was Ramona. She was so sweet. I got so itatched [sic] Icould hardly let go. I think the Eskaton program was really fun and I hope next year would be the same way.”
To locate intergenerational volunteering opportunities, visit your local volunteer center. In addition, Generations United has a searchable online directory.