Collaboration newsletter

Now Is the Time to Strengthen the Ties That Bind Generations – Sector Leadership Spot

April 20, 2020

Donna Butts, Generations United

We are all doing our part to protect each other during the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including maintaining physical distancing practices. We must also come together to ensure that physical distancing doesn’t become social isolation, which research confirms has serious health consequences. Older and younger people—our bookend generations—are especially vulnerable. As a result, interest in policies and practices that connect generations has grown in recent years.

A recent public opinion poll conducted for Generations United and The Eisner Foundation confirmed this finding: almost three quarters (74 percent) of respondents agreed that programs and facilities that separately serve different age groups prevent children/youth and older adults from benefitting from each other’s skills and talents. In addition, 89% believed serving both children/youth and older adults at the same location is a good use of resources.

Despite support for intergenerational programming, COVID-19 is having a profound impact on our everyday way of life, causing us to reexamine the social connections and relationships that shape and strengthen our community and individual lives.

While we are currently practicing physical distancing, how can we make plans to strengthen the ties that bind generations in the years to come? Here are a few suggestions for human service providers and leaders:

  • Re-think age-segregated delivery systems and policies – Child abuse came to the public’s attention long before elder abuse. What if policy makers had considered abuse across the lifespan? What impacts one generation often impacts another.
  • Urge collaboration between unlikely partners – Driving Away Hunger did this when they formed a partnership between student driver’s education and a home meal delivery program for isolated older adults creating a win-win-win.
  • Challenge local leaders to be champions and prioritize intergenerational use of built and outdoor space – When faced with building either a new senior center or a new high school, Swampscott, MA, community leaders decided to build one facility, the Swampscott High School and Senior Center, rather than pit one generation against the other.
  • Create a learning collaborative with members from different generations that can review your practices, services and programs using an intergenerational solutions lens – Charge them with developing a vision and plan for an all-age friendly outcome.

These are few ways we can build a world that values and engages people at all ages and stages of life. For more ideas, visit Generations United and remember, we are stronger together…even when we need to stay at least six feet apart.

Donna Butts is the Executive Director of Generations United, a nonprofit focusing on intergenerational collaboration and programming. She previously served on the Board of Directors of the National Human Services Assembly for several years.