“My late sister’s husband had researched our past, but he left the women out. He just traced the fathers and grandfathers, so I wanted to add the women,” Susan Greenwood, Kavod Senior Life (Kavod) Resident, said.
Like many of us, Susan was curious about her family’s history. So when Kavod designed and offered the intergenerational program Connecting Generations through Ancestry (CGTA) with their longtime collaborator Regis University (Regis), Susan and many other residents were eager to join. CGTA paired Kavod residents with Regis third-year pharmacy students to perform in-depth genealogy research about their own families.
Through the process, they became more deeply connected to themselves, their ancestors, and one another. LinkAGES Connects is proud to have supported this extraordinary intergenerational program through our grantmaking.
Designing, Facilitating, and Collaborating on a Brand New Intergenerational Program
Kavod Senior Life’s mission is to provide life-enriching experiences to older adults through a broad range of housing and support services that reflect the spiritual, social, and cultural values of Jewish tradition. They have approximately 400 residents, assisted living and independent living, from diverse backgrounds and with a multitude of spoken languages. Every month, Kavod offers approximately 22 off-site field trips on top of a full Life-Enrichment calendar of on-site activities including yoga, garden club, Bingo, Theater Workshops, book clubs, and voter registration.
CGTA was designed by Connie Moore, Kavod’s Director of Life Enrichment. She had been performing her own family’s genealogy study for eight months and was fascinated by both the process and what she was learning. Through conversations she’s had with residents over the years, she knew they would also enjoy the experience.
Technology subscriptions for each participant necessitated a grant, and the use of a new technology and in-depth research made this a complex program. So Connie suggested that CGTA could be made more enriching by partnering with youth participants to help residents navigate the technology and learn side-by-side. Kavod has had a longstanding relationship with Regis University, the two entities often collaborating on intergenerational programs. It was easy to recruit nine Regis students in their doctoral program to participate.
While the intent was to pair them one-to-one, three additional residents were so enthusiastic that they were also welcomed to participate. Starting with an orientation, the program occurred over ten sessions each held on Friday morning.
The Process of Self-Discovery and Meaning Making
Participants came from all backgrounds, with several people speaking English as a second language and immigrants from different countries. Genny Hale, Kavod’s Volunteer Engagement Coordinator and Data and Evaluation Specialist, facilitated the intergenerational program alongside David Eitemiller. David has expertise in genealogy; he provided guidance during the sessions and was on-hand to help answer any questions if participants ran into walls while researching their family histories.
Many of the participants, especially Kavod residents, didn’t know much about their family histories. By the end, some had family trees that went back as far as nine generations. The process of discovery was enlightening. People unearthed new lineages as well as connections to famous courts. Sometimes participants learned about painful histories that included slavery, fleeing home countries for safety, and even abuse. In anticipation of these experiences, LinkAGES and Kavod made sure that counselors were available to support participants if they needed help processing their emotions.
Susan Greenwood was able to verify family lore that her ancestor John Collins was an English jailer in the 1800s may have fled to the United States for his involvement with the execution of King Charles.
The program’s personal nature cultivated an opportunity for meaningful intergenerational connections. Although the time was set for a single hour, the pairs always went over. Side-by-side, they navigated the challenges of researching across sources and oceans, discovered unknown histories, and shared stories that brought them closer to themselves, one another, and generations long since passed.
To culminate the experience, Kavod hosted an in-person reception that displayed everyone’s professionally presented family trees in gallery fashion. The posters were professionally printed and displayed, a wonderful keepsake to be treasured and shared. Participants were joined at the reception by loved ones and friends, and they were able to share not only their discoveries, but also their newly formed intergenerational friendships.
“I couldn’t have done any of this research without the help of my partner, Mekdes,” Greenwood shared. She was grateful for the opportunity to introduce Mekdes to her son and his wife at the reception.
A Tradition of Intergenerational Programs
Kavod Senior Life is committed to its mission to provide life-enriching experiences for older adults. For this reason, Kavod understands the power and magic of intergenerational programs. On its robust events calendar, it offers two intergenerational programs on a quarterly basis.
Kavod offered its first intergenerational program nearly 20 years ago and continued running it until the facilitators retired in 2021. It began when an on-staff social worker facilitated Project Story; elementary school students went to Kavod once a week for students and residents to take turns reading to one another. The intergenerational connections were deeply meaningful through that experience.
“People would follow their students through college or until the end of life. Project Story really taught all of us the value of intergenerational programs,” Connie said.
The two regular programs, Music and Memory and Opening Minds through Art (OMA), are high-quality, evidence based programs with certified facilitators. Music and Memory pairs a young person with an older adult and provides a unique theme each week around which each person creates a playlist. The pair then listens to one another’s music and talks about the stories around the music.
Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is for older adults who have memory challenges, some have dementia, or cognitive and physical barriers. Currently, OMA collaborates with Regis University students who work on weekly abstract art projects alongside our residents.
“It’s not so much about the art, although the art has been amazing. It’s more about the relationship building and experiences of different generations working together. They learn about one another through creative self-expression and social engagement. All generations come away with better attitudes toward youth and aging,” Connie said.
Kavod was also a founding member of LinkAGES bringing their deep experience with intergenerational programming to the collaborative effort. LinkAGES has proudly funded intergenerational programming at Kavod since 2018.
Proving perhaps that providing a range of diverse intergenerational programs encourages more people to participate in them, residents who had never participated in one of the other programs have been attracted to CGTA. Word has already circulated in Kavod about CGTA and people are excited to be part of the next iteration.
Benefits of Intergenerational Connections
High-quality intergenerational programs provide spaces for older adults and youth to connect. Over the years, Kavod has paired residents with young people from every age– from toddlers to college students. The benefits for the youth age groups can vary depending on the developmental phase, but one that is a top priority to Kavod is reducing ageist beliefs. And that goes for the older adults as well.
Desired outcomes for younger participants
- Improves self-esteem, self-worthiness, and confidence
- Develop authentic relationships with persons from a different age group
- Reduce ageist beliefs
- Increased ability to self-reflect
- Increased levels of empathy
- A wider understanding of another person’s life journey and experience
- Develop creative problem solving skills
- Understand issues from different perspectives
- Share solutions across generations
Desired outcomes for older participants
- Develop authentic relationships with persons from a different age group
- Reduce ageist beliefs
- Understand the perspectives of younger generations and peers
- Increase feelings of empathy and connection
- Engage in creative problem solving
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved memory
“Intergenerational programs are just so good for everybody involved. They give our residents an opportunity to contribute to younger generations. It gives youth participants an opportunity to create a connection across time and learn from the lived experiences of older adults. Everyone sees that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Family issues, health concerns, pandemics– humans are humans and we can all learn from one another,” Connie said.
Learnings to Facilitate Your Own Intergenerational Programs
Kavod intends to continue to focus on high-quality intergenerational programs. Michael Klein, President and CEO, values the power of these programs and wants to continue putting resources into ensuring they are part of Kavod’s robust activity schedule.
Advice for community directors and entities who want to regularly run intergenerational programs:
Learn from your network. By attending and presenting at network events and conferences, community directors and program managers are exposed to new ideas and learn valuable lessons learned. You can also receive mentorship, work together to problem solve, and take best-practices to adapt programs to your community. You can also join the LinkAGES Collaborative Network which was recently launched. Attend our next quarterly meeting.
Adapt and iterate proven programs. Intergenerational programs require more collaboration and planning than a regular program. For your first, adapt one that has a proven track record of success. You can discover these from your network, research evidence-based intergenerational programs, or download a toolkit from the LinkAGES Connects website. Keep facilitating and iterating the same intergenerational program for your community to discover more learnings and experiment with outcomes.
Evaluate. Strong, data-driven evaluations make it possible to track your desired outcomes, iterate strategically to increase the benefits to your participants, and secure funding for future programs. Check out the LinkAGES Connects Evaluation Education Series to set up your own evaluation in bite-size videos.
Center shared activities and passions. Once you understand how to run an intergenerational program, start to experiment with new programs. A good rule is to center shared passions– like music, ancestry research, and art– where participants are learning side-by-side. Avoid ageist ideas that someone is donating their time or wisdom. Lift up the reality that people of all ages can learn from one another and discover new passions together.
Align with collaborators who care about intergenerational connections. Intergenerational programs require recruiting both youth and older adults, and rarely do entities work with both populations. Find aligned partners who work with the population you do not, and share the work of outreach, program design, facilitation, and evaluation.
Make it part of the job description. Even if the roles are only part-time, it is far easier to run high-quality intergenerational programs when someone is designated to the role. Kavod has an intergenerational program coordinator who works for 10 hours per week and is OMA-certified.