Creating Connections Across Generations

Frozen Moments: Where Photography & Memory Meet

Photography & Storytelling group photo of intergenerational participants
Photography & Storytelling is an ongoing program. It changes with each rendition, exploring topics like Self and Memory. Here we see the facilitators and their most recent 2022 participants, older adults and DU students.

“Film and photography pervade through every piece of our daily experience. Now more than ever, the world we interact with and consume is based in our experience of photos and videos, a fact that means we can connect to more people, places, and things than ever before. Our memories, our perceptions, and our identities are grounded in the photos we know but what does that mean for the real world we interact with everyday?”

Frozen Moments: Where Photography and Memory Meet (seen below) was directed and edited by University of Denver (DU) students: Norah Schroder, Kabe Aberle, and Anna Marlow.

The students participated in Photography & Memory, an intergenerational program with older adults and DU seniors. The program is facilitated in collaboration with the University of Denver and Denver Public Library with LinkAGES as a proud supporter.

The spectacular film is in and of itself a work of art, evocative in its interviews and the way it communicates a medium that is so intimate. If you’ve been curious about participating in one of DU & the Denver Public Library’s renditions of their Photography & Storytelling class, this will give you great insight into what you can expect to experience. 

Photography & Storytelling Program Designers and Facilitators:

  • Amy DelPo, Denver Public Library, Older Adult Services
  • Anne Walker, M.Ed., University of Denver, School of Communications
  • Roddy MacInnes, Professor of Photography, University of Denver, School of Art and Art History

What are age-friendly communities?

There are places to live– to hang your hat and park your car between the comings and goings of life– and then there are communities. “Good communities” are generally recognized as places where residents feel safe, connected, and confident. They are places that invite you in– to be involved in civic matters, to stroll through town for farmer’s markets, or to sit in the park for an afternoon. When you’re integrated into your community, you feel like you belong and that you matter to the people, policymakers, and planners that you share it with. Communities can be found in suburbs, rural areas, and cities. They can be as small as a square block or as large as a county. A good community is constantly evolving with the people who live in it and responds to the needs of those who frequent it for work and play as well.

Age-Friendly Communities

In recent history, there has been growing momentum in the United States to make our communities more inclusive– we are more mindful of ADA regulations, the need to disseminate information in multiple languages, and the growing desire for the diversity that makes every ecosystem thrive. As part of this momentum, we see cities, counties, and states committing to becoming “age-friendly.”

A community that is age-friendly is one in which all ages can thrive. It is a place where people want to grow up and grow older, throughout the entirety of life.  

Farmers Market outside
This farmer's market in Louisville, KY, welcomes community members of all ages to access healthy food, outdoor spaces, and connection.

Many communities have a goal to become officially designated as age-friendly by AARP or the WHO (World Health Organization). How does a community reach this status? By focusing the efforts of its policymakers, elected officials, business owners, city planners, schools, architects, and community leaders on the eight domains of livability.

The Eight Domains of Livability

By looking at the following eight domains, community leaders can tackle what could be perceived as a monumental task: re-designing a place to be one in which ALL members can be active participants in the social, economic, and civic fabric of their community. Many of the domains overlap and when they do, it’s clear how intentionally designed communities cultivate spaces for meaningful intergenerational connections. 

A graphic depicting the eight domains of livability by the AARP

Outdoor Spaces & Buildings

Communities should offer public areas that welcome residents and visitors to gather both indoors and outside. Parks and green spaces should be located near to different neighborhoods, schools, and housing facilities. Within them, there should be places to sit comfortably and out of the sun. There should also be public restrooms that are safe and clean. City planners can integrate benches, areas to grill and picnic, play structures for various ages, and courts, fields, and waterways for athletes and spectators.

Sidewalks and paved roads should be well-maintained and buildings should be accessible to people with different physical and cognitive abilities. Inside, buildings should be brightly lit with clear signage that directs visitors to where they want to go or can receive assistance.

Transportation

Being able to easily move about a community is a central aspect of inclusiveness. Transportation options should include reliable and affordable public transit options, rideshares, and a pedestrian and bike-friendly community layout. This, of course, will vary greatly depending on what type of community one lives in. 

For rural regions especially this is a difficult task to undertake, but for that reason it is arguably more essential to the well-being of all of our residents. If people with young families, teenagers without cars, and older adults cannot easily leave their homes to engage in social interactions, then we risk isolating many of our community members. At the same time, it’s important not to take for granted that a particular neighborhood offers reliable transportation just because it is located in a city. If there is no clear way to safely access the underground metro, for example, with a stroller or a wheelchair, then it isn’t age-friendly either.

Creating space for natural interaction in public spaces facilitated connection and community.

Housing

In every community, there should be diverse living options that are safe, clean, and well-maintained. Diverse living options include different types of housing facilities like one-level houses, apartment buildings with play structures and elevators, and co-living arrangements.

For younger residents, consider priorities like proximity to schools and services as well as main roads. For older adults, consider visitability and availability of home-based services. Providing a way for residents to be simultaneously safely independent and consistently social is a good rule to follow.

Community & Health Services

Age-friendly community leaders consider every life stage as significant and prioritize equitable, accessible health care and community services for all their neighbors. From prenatal care to hospice, community members should be able to find healthcare providers and services that make their lives healthier, more comfortable, and full of dignity. 

This can be especially challenging in rural areas with limited services or with services that are geographically distant. It is important that this domain is a top priority when re-thinking a community to be more age-friendly, and it is made easier when considering in concert with the transportation and housing domains. 

Social Participation

The goal is not to create communities where people co-exist alongside one another, but where community members co-mingle and share their lives. When designing or re-thinking spaces, community leaders should consider how they can support activities that encourage opportunities for learning, social, cultural, and spiritual activities.

In age-inclusive outdoor spaces and indoor buildings, it is a natural progression to offer intergenerational activities like movies, concerts, and pickle-ball tournaments, for example. These activities should be affordable, safe, and accessible to all community members. Considering adolescents and teenagers in this domain is important, too. In these years, young people are developing their social identities. Providing a safe, fun place for them to gather and interact with other ages creates opportunities for healthy relationship building.

People of all ages doing easy seated yoga in a park.
Age-inclusive activities welcome all community members to participate and interact doing things they enjoy.

Respect & Social Inclusion

Age-friendly communities cultivate environments where all community members from diverse backgrounds feel valued, respected, and seen. Spaces and activities should encourage intergenerational connections that reinforce inclusivity and equity. When designing social activities, include multicultural experiences that are culturally sensitive and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the diverse backgrounds of neighbors.  

Civic Participation & Employment

All people desire to feel valued and as if they matter. This deeper personal meaning can be found in job opportunities, volunteer positions, and civic participation. Communities can be thoughtful in the way they offer job support services, instill age-friendly practices within places of businesses, and design opportunities to integrate people of all ages in volunteer opportunities in schools, nonprofits, and community events. 

Civic participation should be highly encouraged through accessibility, including campaign events, voter registration and education, and polling locations or mail-in voting options. Community events and decision making tables should also be accessible and consider physical ability, language, location, and times. Furthermore, all voices should be genuinely considered when policymakers and elected officials are making decisions that impact everyone.

An older and younger gentleman hug and smile in a public building.
Age-friendly communities make civic engagement and public spaces accessible to everyone.

Communication & Information

Building on the previous domain, community leaders should consider how different community members reliably receive information. Community members vary greatly in their comfort with technology, the people they trust, and their preferred methods of communication. 

Information should be disseminated in a variety of ways including digitally, in print publications like newspapers, via local television channels, and through trusted community partners and advocates who are integrated within sub-communities. Distribute information in the dominant languages of residents and provide surveys and feedback opportunities in multiple languages as well. Also, provide ample time for these educational materials to be spread throughout the community so that everyone can receive, absorb, and participate.

Meaningful Intergenerational Connections

When designing age-friendly communities, we should always think about how to create opportunities for  meaningful intergenerational connections. These occur when spaces like community centers are designed to encourage shared programming such as fitness, arts or gardening. Housing can be designed and marketed for a mix of ages and paired with programming such as a mentoring program matching older adults with school aged youth or an intergenerational garden and cooking club. Playgrounds and parks can be designed to encourage recreation for all ages with youth and adult appropriate equipment, trails, regularly spaced benches and restrooms. Recreational programming designed for people of all abilities and ages can be designed to encourage interaction between diverse ages can be instrumental in making intergenerational the norm. 

Often, we see the discussion and focus of age-friendly communities  through the lens of making communities more accessible and inclusive to older adults. But to truly accomplish our goals, we must imagine a community in its entirety and work towards inclusiveness for all of the people who live, play, and work there.

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Here is your opportunity to help make your community more age-friendly! A significant part of building age-friendly communities is the constant feedback from community members of all ages.

Fill out this 4-question anonymous survey about your community! 

 

Unboxed: An intergenerational LGBTQ+ program exploring identity through art & stories

Exploring our own personal identities and histories is a complex and vulnerable experience. Denver Public Library and StoryCenter created a safe space for six older adults and six teenagers, all part of the LGBTQ+ community, to come together and do just that in Fall 2021.

During an intergenerational program, participants dove into writing prompts, wellness exercises, and art activities while forming bonds and friendships with one another. They explored their own personal stories while listening to those of other participants. At the end, they each completed a 2-4 minute digital film about their personal identities. Many participants are still in touch. 

Denver Public Library and StoryCenter produced a Zine to share some participant stories. “D’s Story” is below and you can view the whole Zine here in PDF format. Keep scrolling to read a powerful testimony from one of the participants.

LinkAGES is proud to have funded and supported Unboxed.

Unboxed Participant Testimony

Dear Amy,

I just wanted to write to thank you for the program Unboxed: An Intergenerational Digital Storytelling Project for LGBTQ+ Teens and Older Adults. It was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget, especially now that I have a digital story I can share with my family and friends. 

This program was special because we met six times and I was able to develop friendships that have lasted beyond the program. In addition to sharing our stories, we shared how we were doing and did wellness activities such as breathing, meditating, and journaling or drawing. One of the older adults, for example, fell down her stairs and seriously injured her back, yet she kept coming to the sessions. She said she really appreciated our support during a tough time. Another older adult had some difficulty with the technology, so we met together several times in person to work on our stories together. Now that the workshop is over, we check in with each other every week or so by phone or email and meet every now and then to catch up.   

The extended program also helped me get to know the teen participants. I learned a lot from the young people. I realized that while they have access to the Internet and many more resources than I had as a queer teen, they still face prejudice and discrimination. They are coming out at a younger age and thus have to face homophobia and transphobia as early as grade school. I came to admire their courage and integrity. I wish there were more opportunities for LGBTQ+ older adults and teens to interact like we did in Unboxed. At one point, one of the teens said they appreciated seeing older adults who survived and thrived–it gave them hope for their own futures. I replied that it meant everything to us older adults to see resilient, thoughtful, compassionate young people who will lead us into the future. 

I can’t say enough about the Denver Public Library staff and Story Center facilitators who guided us through the workshop. Jonny, Ngozi, Casey, and Holly made me feel safe to talk about past trauma and take the risk of being vulnerable in my creative work. We developed a creative community, discussing how to represent our struggles and joys as queer people. Jonny and Ngozi taught us how to use the technology and sharpen our storytelling techniques. Holly took us through several art projects that opened up my thinking and improved my project. Casey was an ever-present source of compassion and encouragement. When we shared our digital stories at the end of the program, I felt as much pride for others as I did for myself. I was moved to tears several times, remembering how intimidating it was for some of us to first share our stories. My triumph wasn’t so much about “I did it!” as it was about “we did it!”

I have been struggling with anxiety/depression during the pandemic and having this weekly meeting, along with the creative project to work on, gave me a sense of community and purpose. One of the older adults said it well–“this is helping my self-esteem!” I’m sure this Unboxed program took a great deal of planning and resources. I am grateful. Very grateful.

Thank you for all you are doing for older adults at Denver Public Library and for bringing us this amazing program. 

Bob & Tiffany: An intergenerational friendship

Tiffany was on scholarship at the University of Denver, finishing her senior year in her late 30s, when she signed up for a photography class. She had recently begun taking more photos and wanted to sharpen her skills by learning new techniques. When she sat down on her first day of class, she couldn’t remember reading in the course description that she and her college peers would be learning alongside older adults (50-years-old and older). She wondered if this would make the class boring, sitting with not much to say to someone decades older than she.

Bob and Tiffany stand in front of a photo of themselves at the Denver art Museum. They both wear huge smiles.
Tiffany (left) and Bob (right) at the Photography & Memory Exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

Bob’s friends convinced him to participate in a photography class. He had recently retired from a storied career that had taken him all over the country. Early on in his military service in St. Louis, he picked up his first camera. He began taking photographs of everyone, which eventually included Popes and presidents. In his 40s, he started going blind– a struggle that changed the trajectory of his life. Thirty years later, with more time on his hands, he was once again pursuing photography. A social person who had always worked in intergenerational settings, he looked forward to engaging with his peers and college students. See Bob’s photography on his website Weinberg Photographics.

Bob and Tiffany formed a fast and lasting friendship. Over more than two years, they have become confidantes– celebrating one another’s joys, navigating a global pandemic, and grieving the loss of loved ones. On the night that their class’s Photography & Memory exhibit went up in the Denver Art Museum, they nearly missed one another. But as Bob was about to get on his bus, Tiffany ran across the street to greet him, having just driven all the way from Tulsa. They re-entered the exhibit together, and their obvious connection and joy at being together inspired us to capture their story. 

LinkAGES story of Bob & Tiffany. You can also view it on our youtube channel.

About Photography & Storytelling

Photography & Storytelling is an intergenerational program that brings older adults (50-years-old and older) and University of Denver seniors together. They learn the art of photography in the context of a specific theme, such as self or memory. It is facilitated in partnership with the University of Denver and Denver Public Library, and funded by LinkAGES Colorado.

Program designed and facilitated by:

  • Roddy MacInnes, Professor, University of Denver
  • Anne Walker, Doctoral Student and Instructor, University of Denver
  • Amy Delpo, Administrator of Older Adult Services, Denver Public Library
Exhibit Host: Denver Art Museum
 
Video Produced by: Farsighted Creative in collaboration with Aging Dynamics

Youth, Loneliness, and a Dangerous Mental Health Crisis

Loneliness is a felt experience. One that you can call to memory easily, in your body and heart. Like hunger or thirst, it is the feeling of being in one condition and wishing to be in another, it is a feeling of missing something so fundamental to our needs that we often take it for granted when we are sated. Loneliness can be social, caused by actually physically missing the presence of others; it can also be emotional, we can be surrounded by people and yet still feel alone.

Loneliness is a sweeping epidemic amongst our children, adolescents (those making the transition from childhood to adulthood), and young adults. According to a 2021 CDC survey, 61% of 18-25-year-olds reported feeling serious loneliness- “frequently” or “almost all of the time or all of the time” in the four weeks prior to the survey The repercussions of feeling lonely include rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality as well as morbidity and increased vigilance for social threats. 

Loneliness is a lack of meaningful connection. Our young people are experiencing higher rates of loneliness and mental health crisis than ever before– and it is likely because they have no one to turn to. 

Teenage boy stands alone
Photograph by Karsten Winege Art via Unsplash.

 

Three Types of Loneliness

According to one school of thought, there are three types of loneliness that range from our day-to-day experience to our built environment and personal histories. See the grid below.

Type of Loneliness

Factors Associated

Situational

Unpleasant experiences, interpersonal conflicts, accidents, disasters, etc.

Developmental

Perceived personal inadequacies, developmental deficits, significant separations, poverty, living arrangements, physical and psychological health, etc.

Internal

Personality, feeling of autonomy and control, mental distress, low self-esteem, feeling guilty or ashamed, poor coping strategies, etc.

Adolescents and young adults are dynamic human beings in environments largely outside of their own control. They are developing physiologically and psychologically, at times rapidly and with little awareness or understanding. They’re learning who they are and how to be in the world, developing their interpersonal skills in a number of different environments and communities including in school, at home, on social media, and in extracurricular activities. With so many variables, there is an interplay of diverse factors that can cause loneliness in so many young people. In the same vein, whether loneliness causes mental illness or vice-versa is not so easy to pull apart.

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

House in rural Colorado, nothing around
The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory on Youth Mental Health said that living in rural areas with limited access to school or mental health services puts rural youth at greater risk of having mental health challenges.

Loneliness is a single factor that can impact youth mental health. When we look at the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), it is easy to place loneliness within the single category of Social and Community Context. But loneliness and mental health are far more complex than that. SDOH are the conditions in which people are born, live, work, play, and age. These conditions affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes. They’re categorized into the five domains below. 

SDOH include things like:

  • Safe housing and access to green spaces like parks
  • Racism, discrimination and prejudice based on ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • Violence, neglect, and abuse
  • School environment, educational quality, opportunities to learn
  • Household income, material wealth
  • Access to healthy foods and clean water
  • Language and literacy skills
Healthy People 2030 SDOH Graphics
Social Determinants of Health include: 1. Economic Stability 2. Education Access and Quality 3. Health Care Access and Quality 4. Neighborhood and Build Environment 5. Social and Community Context

 

Children, adolescents, and young people (as well as adults) face considerable inequities across SDOH which leads to physical and mental health disparities. As you can see, the SDOH are the same factors that impact loneliness.

The loneliest generation in history: Gen Z

Generation Z (Gen Z), people born between 1997-2012, are more likely to say they were lonely in childhood than any other generation before them. Compared to only 24% of Baby Boomers, 56% of Gen Zers felt lonely at least once or twice per month during childhood, according to The State of Mental Health in America (2022). Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicidality- amongst other mental health challenges- in children, adolescents, and young adults were increasing quickly in the decade prior to the pandemic. In 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the reality of all young people in the United States and across the world. Because of the vast and intersectional inequities across the SDOH, some children were more negatively impacted than others by the pandemic’s forced social distancing requirements, sickness, and the immense loss of life. During the pandemic, “44% of high school students reported that, in the previous 12 months, they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row,” according to the Pew Center for Research.    

More than 140,000 children in the US lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver due to COVID-19, with youth of color disproportionately impacted. This statistic is cited in the AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health released by American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association, respectively.

In their short lifetimes, Gen Z has faced a global pandemic, climate crisis, a politically and socially divided country, and so much more. Adding the cultural and individual experiences of racism, prejudism, and inequity makes their load a heavy one to bear- and they’re doing so alone.

Teenage girl in a pink hijab sitting alone in a building hallway
Photograph by Muhammad Faiz Zulkeflee via Unsplash.

"This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020.”

AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Tweet

Loneliness has a long-term impact

A study published in 2013 examined the consequences of loneliness on children, adolescents, and young people. At that time, the researchers found that as many as 80% of youth under 18-years-old reported being lonely at least sometimes. They found that the effects of loneliness accrue over time. Not only that, but multiple studies produced evidence that loneliness in youth was correlated to a 300% higher likelihood of developing depression in the future and that this impact could last for years, (ibid). These studies pointed to the possibility that it is actually the duration of loneliness, rather than the intensity of it, that increases risk of later depression.

The converse of this, worth noting in another study, is that only 7% of adults in the US who were never lonely in their childhood report that they often feel lonely or isolated today, (American National Family Life Survey December 2021). 

The youth mental health crisis is fatal

This year, 2022, firearms became the most likely way that a child, age 1-19-years-old, will die in the United States of America. 65% of those children’s deaths will be homicides and 35% of those children’s deaths will be categorized as suicide. After motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses and poisoning follow as the leading causes of death amongst our young people. (It’s important to note that some poisonings and drug doses are accidental).

“Most commonly what makes the news is these horrific mass shootings, but they are a small aspect of the overall problem. The smallest portion are the mass shootings. … it’s these daily deaths that are occurring making up the totality of what we are seeing,” Patrick Carter, co-author of a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine and co-director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, told NPR in April 2022.

Still, the US is grappling with a school shooting crisis. More than 311,000 children have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine according to research done by the Washington Post.

The Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center, is dedicated to reducing violence in society through the use of data and analysis to improve policy and practice. Psychologist Dr. Jillian Peterson and sociologist Dr. James Densley co-founded the project; they are best known for their work on gun violence prevention and mass shootings, funded by the National Institute of Justice. 

Over 80% of mass shooters were in a noticeable crisis prior to their shooting, most often in the months and years beforehand, and 39.5% were demonstrating isolation. In an analysis of 134 school shootings or attempted school shootings, 80% of shooters were suicidal prior to the shooting. 

“There’s this really consistent pathway. Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts."

Dr. Jillian Peterson , The Violence Project via Politico Tweet

What this data suggests is that school shootings (which are also suicides) performed by young people could have been prevented if someone close to them had taken an interest in the mental health crisis that they were experiencing.

Strategies to help our kids are rooted in connection

Children, adolescents, and young adults are exposed to significant stressors and trauma in modern day society. We are not invalidating their experiences, and the truth is that children have faced war, famine, and family struggles throughout history. It is the loneliness and mental health crisis that they are experiencing so disproportionately compared to previous generations. And loneliness is a lack of meaningful connections.

Having a trusted older adult who young people can turn to about serious matters is a major protective factor for youth mental health across all demographics and identities. 

A veteran sits with two teenage girls, telling stories
“(Veteran’s name) and I have been regularly communicating and it has been great. We email, text, and even send each other letters. I sent him a mask my mom and I made in the mail and he sent me his book. I do hope I can see him again because we have built a really great connection.” Teenage participant in Wish of a Lifetime (from AARP) Passage of Heroes program. It paired Golden High School students with Veterans in Jefferson County.

Where can these adults be found? Who is responsible for our youth? All of us.

Having two or more mentors helps children, adolescents, and young adults:

  • Learn how to regulate their emotions
  • Create clear expectations for values and behavior
  • Develop healthy coping skills 
  • Foster self-esteem
  • Support development of interests and skills
  • Develop positive norms for themselves and those around them
  • Maintain physical and psychological safety.

The US Surgeon General’s Advisory in November 2021 also shared a list of recommendations for families, schools, healthcare institutions, community organizations, funders, media, and society at large. Read the Advisory and strategies here

Topline recommendations include:

  • Recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health.  
  • Empower youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.  
  • Ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care. 
  • Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. And expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.  
  • Address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
  • Increase timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly
An older woman stands with two teenagers with photographs in an intergenerational program for belonging.
Photography & Storytelling is an ongoing intergenerational program. It brings youth and older adults together to learn photography skills and share life stories. It's as simple as that.

Society has finally woken up to the reality that our children, adolescents, and young people are suffering and that it is our responsibility to do something about it. We know the factors and determinants that are impacting youth loneliness and mental illness are intersectional, and so our response should be as well. To help our kids, we need to create change within those areas especially for those kids who are most vulnerable. And it will take a village.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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LinkAGES Colorado creates opportunities for meaningful intergenerational connections between youth and older adults (50-years and older). By bringing generations together over shared activities and storytelling, we cultivate spaces that allow meaningful interactions and foster mental health amongst all participants. These intergenerational programs can occur in school settings, neighborhoods, and in communities. We host photography classes, music therapy classes, and cultural programs. Learn more about the benefits for both older adults and young people in our article Intergenerational connections: A solution to isolation and loneliness.

Want to get involved? Contact us for updates!

Further Reading and Sources

Weissbourd, R., Batnova, M., Lovison, V., & Torres, E. (2021, February) Loneliness in America: How the pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness and what we can do about it. https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america

Hawkley, L.C. Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA. Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 940 E. 57th St, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

Tiwari, SC. Loneliness: A disease? Indian J of Psychiatry. 2013;55(4):320–22.

Healthy People 2030, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved 06/05/22, from https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, (2021, December). Protecting Youth Mental Health. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/12/07/us-surgeon-general-issues-advisory-on-youth-mental-health-crisis-further-exposed-by-covid-19-pandemic.html

Hawkley, LC., & Cacioppo, JT. Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Ann Behav Med. 2010;40(2):218-227. doi:10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8

Coz, J.W., Rich, S., Chiu, A., Chong, L., Muyskens, J.,  Thacker, H., & Ulmanu, M. The Washington Post’s database of school shootings. Retrieved 05/27/22. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database/

Peterson, Dr. J. & Desnley, Dr. J. (2019). The Violence Project: Mass Shooter Database Key Findings. https://www.theviolenceproject.org/mass-shooter-database-3/key-findings/

Warner, M. (2022, May 27) Two professors found what creates a mass shooter. Will politicians pay attention? https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762

The collaborative model at work

On a February morning in 2022, a group of 40 people popped into gallery-view on a video conference. Each person wore a smile and waved to the group as they arrived, excited to reconnect after a holiday break. When it was time, the facilitator opened the meeting with a simple question so everyone could reacquaint themselves: What special quality do you bring to LinkAGES Colorado? 

People took turns, sharing from the heart. Some things were characteristics cultivated from personal stories, others were hard skills.

“I unearth strategic connections; I connect good people to good people.” 

“The library where I work has a real commitment to equity for all people with a breadth of resources I bring to LinkAGES.” 

“I love to talk about reframing aging and how we can change the narrative. That’s something I can do for free for any of you.”

“While a lot of us work primarily with older adults, I work with families and young people so I contribute to that balance.”

One common thread was a shared passion for creating connections across generations. Established in 2018, LinkAGES is an innovative multi-sector collaborative of organizations that creates opportunities for meaningful relationships across generations. Everyone who attends these meetings represents the organizations that come together to facilitate intergenerational programs in the Denver metro area.

The social impact sector buzzes with jargon. And “collaboration” is a term that has been steadily humming for quite a few years now. The thing about jargon, though, is that it’s often hard to decipher the true meanings behind the words. That February meeting captured the true essence of collaboration: when many people come together, with diverse skill sets and unique qualities, to leverage their resources and passions for a shared vision. 

Social problems require a whole-system response

Why is collaboration such a hot topic these days? What shifted from sectors, or even organizations, working as independent actors?

 It is because many of the social problems that we face today are not localized, they impact and are impacted by factors that span communities, regions, and nations. Whether we’re talking about hunger, climate change, or unhoused teens, we’re talking about system-wide issues. Working in silos, individual organizations and disparate sectors create redundancy in services at best and incompetence at worst. People fall through the gaps, opportunities slip by, and funding dries up.

Funders, businesses, organizations, and grassroots initiatives are now turning to one another for a better way to work. By collaborating, diverse stakeholders are able to pool their resources and community assets in order to holistically tackle systemic problems.

Collaboration means to take action and track impact by helping diverse teams work together to engage in community-focused initiatives and collect relevant data to drive strategic learning.

Collaboratives: Committed, long-term collaboration

There is great emphasis right now for organizations and funders to scale up their collaboration efforts to be more inclusive of diverse organizations, grassroots efforts, business owners, residents, workers who commute in, and community members who are closest to the issues at hand.

A collaborative is an effort that involves multiple stakeholders committed to achieving a shared vision through leveraging each other’s strengths and resources. It can involve community based organizations, funders, policymakers, business owners, public institutions, and community members. It can range in size from just a few members to hundreds. Everyone shares a common vision and commits to a shared ethos of working together.

Community power-building recognizes that community-led work is the strongest form of community engagement. To build community power, funders and organizations have to invest their time, resources, and energy into providing equitable opportunities for community members and leaders to build their skills.

A collaborative’s shared ethos may include:

  1. Commitment to a shared vision
  2. Recognition of value brought by other members
  3. Leadership supports collaboration
  4. Willingness to invest time and resources 
  5. Consistent and engaged participation 

The collaborative model at work: LinkAGES Colorado

LinkAGES Colorado is an example of a multi-sector collaborative that is high-functioning. LinkAGES makes intergenerational  programming  the  norm  by  building  capacity, facilitating  collaboration  and  raising  awareness  of  the  power  of intergenerational  connections. It achieves this mission by providing unique and critical support to remove the barriers to intergenerational programming.

"Learning from others about how they have designed their intergenerational experiences has been very useful and allowed me to think of new ways to design my programs." - Member comment 2021 Collaborative Evaluation

One of the most significant barriers to facilitating intergnerational programs is finding the right collaborators and efficiently working together. LinkAGES members can easily identify complementary partners– including 40+ partner organizations who are not LinkAGES members– to develop programs that maximize each organization’s resources.They share meeting spaces, facilitators, marketing outreach, technology, and materials. In a pair or more of collaborators, there is one organization who already works with the target youth group and one organization who already works with a group of older adults. This significantly reduces barriers to intergenerational programming because different ages often have different priorities, lexicon, and skillsets. Partnering organizations can cross-train facilitators, educate participants about what to expect, and support all participants throughout the program.

Expanding the LinkAGES Collaborative, aka adding new members and increasing our impact, is an ongoing priority. As the pandemic continues, this requires creativity. Organizations that were already at maximum capacity are experiencing significant fatigue and hiring challenges. The idea of stepping into another responsibility is daunting, even with all the benefits. We don’t think that should stop them from participating or receiving benefits that can help them achieve our shared objectives. LinkAGES’ welcomes organizations to participate in other ways as a precursor to membership.

There is a local community-based organization would be an excellent member. They just don’t have the capacity right now. So we’re helping with their intergenerational cooking class with teens and Veterans. It provides so much value– in addition to meaningful connections, participants learn cooking skills, receive budget-friendly healthy recipes, and even go home with free groceries. LinkAGES is offering evaluation support, recruitment outreach, and content development. By creating opportunities to get to know LinkAGES before joining, we are planting seeds for new members.”

Rachel B. Cohen, LinkAGES Director

Every collaborative needs a backbone

Most organizations, businesses, and agencies have a lot on their plate. The idea of adding another responsibility– like joining and helping run a collaborative– can be really daunting. 

That’s where backbone organizations step in. Backbone organizations are neutral organizations who act as the convener for the collaborative. In many cases, they will set-up meetings, handle materials, facilitate convenings, head up communications and more. 

LinkAGES’ backbone addresses the three major barriers that prevent organizations from running intergenerational programs so that member organizations can focus on actually facilitating programs. These three major barriers, according to Generations United and the Eisner Foundation (2018), include

  • insufficient capacity to demonstrate the impact of services;
  • inadequate funds; and 
  • no structure to collaborate with other groups on ideas and strategies.
Hand statue holding a massive tree up so it can keep growing
"The scale of the issues that nonprofits are tackling—climate change, homelessness, racial justice, income inequality—feels too big for any one nonprofit or funder. And the scale of the impact these organizations hope to achieve—to change systems, not just symptoms—can be just as overwhelming." (Grant, Wilkinson, Butts, 2020)

LinkAGES’ backbone is comprised of two distinct parts that work together. 

  1. The first part of the backbone is charged with facilitating the collaborative, coaching member organizations, customized-problem solving, fundraising, and relationship-building. It also manages the grants process and performs essential functions like running the website and developing educational resources. This is performed by Aging Dynamics, led by Rachel B. Cohen.
  2. The second part is the evaluation component. Evaluation is integral to LinkAGES’ goal of continuously adapting and improving programs. This is performed by the Research and Evaluation Team from the University of Denver, Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging, and Graduate School of Social Work. Evaluations include:
    • Program evaluations to assess the impact on participants’ feelings of social isolation and connection, and provide information so members can adapt and improve programs; and 
    • An annual evaluation of the collaborative itself via member surveys about the collaborative’s effectiveness and impact on member organizations.

The final two pieces to the LinkAGES Collaborative are our strategic partners and funders. Strategic partners bring expertise, resources, and connections to the Collaborative and create additional opportunities for programming and impact. Our funders include large foundations– NextFifty Foundation, Strear Family Foundation, and the Pluss Family Foundation– as well as member organizations and individual donors. Their commitment to LinkAGES’s vision make it possible for the Collaborative to be nimble, grow, and scale.

Is the collaborative model right for you? 

Being part of a collaborative is immensely beneficial for individual members, for the whole, and for those whose lives you’re seeking to make better. Programs are more sustainable when they are not draining to the organizations who facilitate them, and building capacity is inherent to the model itself. Funding collaborative initiatives is also strategically aligned for funders, who have the opportunity to see a compound impact from their funding efforts. 

Conclusion

The scale of the problems that we’re facing as a society has reached critical levels. Old ways of doing things, with every organization siloed into its own mission, just aren’t going to solve systemic issues. By coming together, we can share knowledge, assets, and resources in order to achieve our shared goals. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can participate in a collaborative, please reach out! LinkAGES is happy to help you explore your options! 

Resources

Grant, H.M., Wilkinson, K. & Butts, M. (2021) Building Capacity for Sustained Collaboration. Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/building_capacity_for_sustained_collaboration

Apps, video conferencing, and virtual reality: How older adults use technology to reduce social isolation

Technology, when wielded correctly, can cross the boundaries that separate us– including physical distance and dimensions of reality. Technology stepped up when the world locked down in Spring 2020 to transition school and some jobs to remote settings. It also helped us stay connected in an isolated world– connecting grandparents to grandkids for storytime and friends for trivia night. 

Technology can be a bridge for those who are socially and/or geographically isolated to connect with the rest of the world. To implement the tools of technology most responsibly, we can turn to the example that many older adults are setting. A recent Washington Post article shares the various ways that older adults are utilizing technology to form new connections and strengthen their existing ties. 

One example is the online platform Papa which connects older adults with “family on demand.” Together, users do things like go for walks and run errands in real life. There’s also Eldera, a platform that pairs vetted adults 60 and older to mentor children around the world via video conferencing.

Dapper gentleman using a VR set
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Older adults are also using virtual reality (VR), a tool that takes the 2-D experience of a video call to the next level. Just imagine sitting in your living room to travel the world with peers, and playing games in beautiful settings with new friends. Families who live apart or can’t see one another can also meet in ordinary settings like their front porches or living rooms, or go fishing on the pond they’ve added to their virtual backyard.

VR and augmented reality (AR) designers are even addressing the flaws of video platforms that create fatigue and disconnect in users, according to Stanford Professor Jeremy Balienson in his recent publication. This way, rather than being drained by these experiences, we feel energized and connected– which is always the goal we have in mind here at LinkAGES.

LinkAGES member Senior Planet from AARP’s very mission is to connect people through technology to online fitness classes, social events and finance events, and events hosted in both Spanish and Chinese. And when the world went on lockdown, LinkAGES members who were able to transition to remote and/or hybrid formats quickly adapted. These programs included Shalom Park’s music therapy program, Photography and Memory, and the Denver Public Libary’s program Unboxed. Learn more about these programs on our Highlights page or watch the below short film LinkAGES: Resilience in 2020. 

We also acknowledge that not everyone has access to technology. As we develop toolkits to help organizations, agencies, and community-led initiatives adapt our most successful programs, we offer guidance on three formats: in-person, hybrid, and remote. Because when it is available, technology can and should connect those who are isolated.

The Washington Post article published in December 2021 goes into detail, and we encourage you to read it and share it with friends!

Changing the Narrative: Guidelines for Age-Inclusive Communication

We are excited to share the Changing the Narrative Guidelines for Age-Inclusive Communication. It covers language, messaging and visuals to use—and what to avoid. This is great for organizations and individuals who write and speak about aging-related issues and ageism as part of your work. AND it’s also great for all of us to read, absorb, and begin putting into use– whether that’s in your teaching job, at your dinner table, or in common conversation. You can find the guidelines here, and please share! 

Intergenerational connections: a solution to isolation and loneliness

“How are you?” It’s a question many of us hear daily. But how often do you really answer? How often does it feel like someone listens in a way that makes you feel seen and heard? 

One-third of survey respondents between 18-25 years old reported that, for a period of four weeks, no one had “taken more than just a few minutes” to ask how they were doing in a way that made them feel like the person “genuinely cared,” (Loneliness in America). Sixty-one percent of young people reported serious loneliness– feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time,” (ibid). 

“The experience of loneliness is 100 percent subjective,” Jeremy Nobel of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School is quoted as saying in a 2020 Harvard Gazette article. “Isolation is the objective state of being physically separate. Loneliness is the self-perceived gap between our social connectedness and that which we aspire to have,” (Powell, 2020).

Social isolation has been extensively studied in another age group– older adults 65 years and older. Prior to the pandemic, 45% of older adults reported feeling socially isolated and lonely. That rate rose to 66% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the rest of us are preoccupied with day-to-day living, our adolescents (those making the transition from childhood to adulthood), young adults (18-25 year olds), and older adults (65 years old and older) are suffering. In the case of social isolation, they are practically invisible- islands unto themselves. In the case of loneliness, they may be surrounded by people or in our very homes, but they feel deeply alone, unseen, and disconnected. While the two are distinct conditions that can occur concurrently or separately, the consequences of isolation and loneliness are much the same.

Social isolation is life-threatening

More than eight million older adults were affected by isolation in 2017, according to AARP. Research has directly linked social isolation in older adults with higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, heart disease, stroke, and shorter life spans.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” said Holt-Lunstad at the 2017 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

At one time, that may have surprised you, but after the COVID-19 pandemic, more adults than ever experienced isolation and loneliness on a visceral level. Still, it was adolescent youth, those making the transition from childhood to adulthood, who experienced the mental health impacts of social isolation the most, according to extensive studies.  

The U.S. Surgeon General (2021) found that emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls and 4% for adolescent boys in early 2021, as compared to the same period in 2019. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, national surveys showed major increases in mental health symptoms like depression and suicidal ideation in youth. For example, 40% more high school students reported persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness between 2009 and 2019, and 44% more students created a suicide plan.

During the pandemic, however, depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled. There are many factors contributing to these findings and each sub-group and individual has their own unique experience, and still, positive and supportive social connections are a protective factor that can both help prevent and avoid social isolation and its consequences, as well as help identify and address mental health symptoms before they progress too far. 

But while many adults experienced relief upon re-entering a version of our previous lives, addressing the continued social isolation and loneliness of older adults and youth requires intentional effort. 

Meaningful connections are a basic human need

Maslow put Love and Belonging at the center of his Hierarchy of Needs, aware of the fact that a sense of deeper connection is what gives life meaning. In her book Belong, Radha Argawal reimagined the Hierarchy of Needs and placed belonging at the very foundation of the hierarchy, as significant as food, water, and shelter. She even put love and positive touch here. Argawal defines belonging as a feeling of deep relatedness and acceptance.

Argawal isn’t an expert in aging, but she is an expert community builder and has successfully created spaces and opportunities that have helped create meaningful connections. 

Across the United States, community-based organizations, national nonprofits, senior housing facilities, businesses, and governments have been exploring how to alleviate the social isolation and loneliness that disproportionately impact older adults, adolescents, and young people 18-25 years old. What have they found? That connecting these age groups with one another– meaningfully– is one key part of the puzzle.

Intergenerational programs create the space and opportunity for connection

“There is something magical that happens when young people and older adults bond over a common interest and both parties recognize the value, experience, and wisdom that they both bring to the table,” Rachel B. Cohen of Aging Dynamics says. Aging Dynamics is part of the backbone that supports LinkAGES, a collaborative of multi-sector organizations that prevent and reduce social isolation. Rachel B. Cohen is has broad and deep expertise in building healthy communities from a variety of perspectives.

Intergenerational programs benefit everyone who participates in them when designed and facilitated well. According to Generations United (2021), “Because of the socio-emotional exchange with an older adult, teenagers experience improvements with their emotions and mental health (Kim & Lee, 2017; Knight et al., 2017) as well as their physical health (Gilchrist, 2014; DuBois et al., 2011; Schroeder et al., 2017).” Generations United also points to research that older adults experience decreased social isolation, “a stronger sense of community, greater life satisfaction, and a stronger sense of purpose, self-worth, self-esteem, and empowerment,” (ibid). 

Young girl laughing with head back as she and an elder make eye contact during art class.
A meaningful connection at a LinkAGE's program in partnership with Kavod Senior Life.

“Skipping a generation– or two or three– is a thoughtful exclusion. It’s about moving away from the familial dynamic. When you have two generations that are sequential, something similar to the parent-child dynamic occurs. That’s not what we’re looking to do here,” Rachel says. “We’re looking to connect people meaningfully in a space of mutual sharing.” 

A meaningful connection is when two people come to a mutual recognition that, despite the decades of age between them, they share so much in common. 

That connection LinkAGES once defined as “long term”, but by evolving their programs realized that what the member organizations truly sought was meaning. As any of us know, a profound connection can occur in the space of weeks, years, or a lifetime– and they all alter the trajectory of our lives and how we see ourselves. 

While the connection may feel like magic, there is significant attention to detail in creating the opportunity.

Intention, purpose, and necessary components

When LinkAGES Colorado was established in 2018, the member organizations (those who would be facilitating the programs), strategic partners, and backbone organizations Aging Dynamics and University of Denver Knoebel Institute, were ready to shake things up. Many intergenerational programs are a unidirectional experience. For example, an older adult helping a preschool student with an art project or a young person listening to the stories of an older adult. This structure leaves one person or age group essentially passive which risks losing the purpose of the program: creating mutually beneficial connections.

One of the core tenets of LinkAGES is questioning everything– question assumptions, role titles, meeting spaces, the structure of events, why certain results are popping up. Curiosity guides members and the collaborative as a whole to find ways to improve programs and continually find ways to create more meaningful connections. The process is always evolving. But as of right now, there are essential components to a LinkAGES intergenerational program.

Intentional design and purpose. When partnering organizations design a program, everyone comes to agreement about what they want participants to get out of the program, the change they hope to see, and how to evaluate against these goals. Once a purpose is established, as Priya Parker says in her book The Art of Gathering, that becomes a filter for how you make every other decision. Those decisions include things like how you choose a meeting space, where people sit, the lighting, the way people introduce themselves, the activities you choose and when you choose to do them. The goal is that participants and staff know why they’re gathering and feel truly connected to that purpose. LinkAGES doesn’t want their programs to be just another obligation someone signed up for, they want people to want to be there and to know that their presence is a significant part of the magic.  

Engagement around a common interest. A program is engaging when all generations are actively participating in a shared interest by giving their own knowledge, receiving new knowledge, and showing up as themselves. If there is a third generation there, for example in a music class with toddlers and older adults, that third generation is also actively contributing to the experience.

Storytelling. Storytelling is the basis of any meaningful connection humans create. We share our own personal stories with one another and then we create a new story together that belongs to us. It’s not necessarily a requirement, but it’s inherently a part of every program LinkAGES runs. Sometimes it happens organically, like in a painting class or cooking class. Other times, it’s part of the program description and the driving activity.

Mommy and Me Intergeneration Music Therapy Program
Mommy & Me Music Class at Shalom Park involved three generations around a shared love of music.

Collaboration across facilitating organizations. LinkAGES Colorado is a collaborative that includes community-based organizations, businesses, housing facilities, and educational institutions. Members meet bi-monthly– with intentionality and expressed purpose– to brainstorm, problem solve, and learn together. Every intergenerational program is facilitated by two or more organizations who pool their knowledge, resources, and capacity to create a more profound impact on participants. 

Involving more communities for greater healing

LinkAGES Colorado received a grant from Next Fifty Initiative to expand its work in two ways. Next Fifty is a Colorado-based private foundation that exists to create brighter, longer and healthier futures that unlock the potential of communities through an advanced funding approach.

The first focus of the grant is to develop resources like templates, educational articles (like this one!), webinars, and more to help other organizations and networks develop their own intergenerational programs– always by approaching the program design with purpose and form a place of adaptation rather than plug-and-play models.  

jason-leung-AxKqisRPQSA-unsplash
Photo by Jason Leung via Unsplash.

The second focus is to help intergenerational programming reach more diverse communities and build bridges across diverse communities. LinkAGES will remain true to its core elements of collaboration, curiosity, and shared intention as it explores with communities how to best design and facilitate intergenerational programs. Each community has its own distinct culture, traditions, ways of gathering, communication moreys (or norms), and together we are exploring how meaningful intergenerational connections already are or can address isolation. 

LinkAGES will seek out experts, community leaders, facilitators, etc. who can help members build the skills to navigate these conversations– especially when it comes to bringing diverse groups together. To create circumstances where people feel safe and can meaningfully connect will likely require new tools and specific expertise. The goal here is to be mindful and navigate thoughtfully.

The Denver Public Library, a member of LinkAGES, recently completed a program called Unboxed in partnership with Storycenter. Over the course of six weeks, teenagers and older adults who identify as LGBTQ+ met to craft a personal storytelling project through art and technology. Within the group of facilitators, several openly identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community which helped intentionally create a container that felt safe for relative strangers to be vulnerable and open with one another. 

And that is probably what’s most important to remember when approaching intergenerational programming. As Rachel B. Cohen says, when you’re bringing relative strangers together and asking them to share their stories, it’s your privilege and responsibility to create a space that is safe for them to be vulnerable and share honestly.

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Our world today can feel overly connected at times, but what makes people of every age feel safe and seen is the depth of the connections in our lives. LinkAGES’ member organizations, strategic partners, and donors know that we can only establish and nurture meaningful connections when we can show up as ourselves and feel understood, accepted, and appreciated by those we’re with. By intentionally creating spaces that facilitate those types of connections and making it easier for other networks and organizations to do the same, LinkAGES seeks to prevent and reduce social isolation and its effects on adolescents, young adults, and older adults.

Resources

Powell, A. (2020, May 4) Social distance makes the heart grow lonelier. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/05/how-to-ease-loneliness-and-feel-more-connected/

Weissbourd, R., Batnova, M., Lovison, V., & Torres, E. (2021, February) Loneliness in America: How the pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness and what we can do about it. https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, (2021, December). Protecting Youth Mental Health. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/12/07/us-surgeon-general-issues-advisory-on-youth-mental-health-crisis-further-exposed-by-covid-19-pandemic.html

Agrawal, R. (2018). Belong: Find your people, create community, & live a more connected life. Workman Publishing Vp., Inc. https://belongbook.com/

Gonzales, E. phD, Kruchten, R, & Whetung, C. (2021, March). Generations United:Making the Case for Intergenerational Programs. https://www.gu.org/app/uploads/2021/03/2021-MakingTheCase-WEB.pdf 

Parker, P. (2018) The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters. Riverhead Books. https://www.priyaparker.com/thebook