Creating Connections Across Generations

Connecting Generations through Ancestry

Youth and Older Adult Social Connection to Soothe Loneliness and Social Isolation
Mae Finney, 92-year-old Kavod Senior Life Resident, and her CGTA Regis University Partner at the closing reception.

“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.

College Students and Older Adults find Connection and Healing through Intergenerational programs
Kavod Senior Life hosted an intergenerational reception. Regis University students and Kavod Senior Life residents invited friends and loved ones to see their family histories and share their intergenerational friendships.

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.

"The highest rates of social isolation are found among older adults, but young adults are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely than those over 65,” according to Cigna Corporation, The Loneliness Epidemic Persists, 2021.

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.

When LinkAGES started in Colorado, there was a wonderful collaboration of people coming from various sectors and organizations. Everyone was energized around intergenerational programming. We were introduced to youth-focused organizations to partner and collaborate with which was vital to our ability to offer intergenerational programs.

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.

Collective Healing through Art Becomes a Program of LinkAGES!

Haley Sanner (left) and Confidence Omenai (right) are the co-creators of Collective Healing through Art. Their goal was to disrupt the harm that was occurring to BIPOC and Queer youth and older adults in their Denver community. They've done that and so much more!

It is our great pleasure to announce that Collective Healing through Art (CHTA) is officially a program of LinkAGES. CHTA and LinkAGES share so many things– a love of art, storytelling, and meaningful connection to name a few. Most vitally, we share the belief that through intergenerational connections, individuals and communities heal. In only a single year, CHTA has been able to bring this belief into reality in Denver, Colorado, and we’re so pleased to share its story. If you haven’t seen the video interview, be sure to watch it! 

Haley and Confidence- Two Kindred Spirits Connect 

CHTA founders, Haley and Confidence met in an online breakout room at a Creative Strategies for Change (CSC) Facilitator Workshop focused on building skills for equity, liberation, facilitation and communication. The 18-hour, 6-session, training focused on mobilizing arts for social justice, confronting and combating racism and valuing restorative and wellness-centered practices. Throughout the workshop, Confidence and Haley recognized that their values aligned and there was immediate synchronicity. 

A Vision to Connect Youth and Older Adults 

“We had seen during the pandemic that there was a lot of isolation and missed milestones in our community. Youth suicide rates were going up and an alarming rate of older adults were being lost to COVID. In our communities, a lot of families in LGBTQIA and marginalized communities had less resources, had less access, and were less resilient during the beginning of the pandemic. I knew there was a way we could disrupt or interrupt what was happening,” Confidence shared in the LinkAGES/CHTA interview How One Intergenerational Program is Healing a Whole Community.

They quickly connected over the fact that they were both raised in intergenerational communities, something they knew helped build within them inner-resilience and healthy coping mechanisms. In the context of what their LGBTQIA and Queer communities were facing, they knew they wanted to meld their love for art and intergenerational relationships in order to help their community unpack collective trauma and heal as individuals and communities. 

“My mother created intergenerational spaces for me to connect, share stories and carry on the art of oral history. She taught me to recognize that we must grow and age in community and a networked system of care comes not only from those related by blood.” -Haley Sanner

CHTA workshop "Rinse and Relief" reclaimed the use of herbalism in self-care rituals. Attendees learned how to utilize simple herbs for a soothing bath at home.

Collective Healing through Art (CHTA) is Born 

With funding from the NextFifty Initiative, they used their complementary skill sets to create curricula and develop partnerships with artists, facilitators, healers, and micro-businesses. The first three cohorts of CHTA would bring  together ten youth and ten older adults for a period of eight weeks. Meeting two hours a week, participants would experience collective healing while exploring a new art form. CHTA’s curriculum centers the experiences of its participants and facilitators, 90% of whom are BIPOC and/or Queer. The art-based workshops are crafted and facilitated to unpack systemic oppression, build healthy coping mechanisms, process emotions, support physical and mental health, and create meaningful intergenerational connections. This is possible through authentic storytelling and the shared experience of making art together, two things that transcend differences and connect people across ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

“Intergenerational engagement, like the spaces CHTA created, are unique opportunities to develop a sense of belonging amidst societal ageism. We intended to co-create this space with the participants, not dictating how they feel or act, but empowering them to show up as they are with autonomy over how they engage and share their stories.” -Haley Sanner

By the time the end-of-year celebration came around the CHTA community was made up of 117 participants and 12 facilitators – nearly all BIPOC and Queer.

CHTA Becomes a Program of LinkAGES

In the early days of planning CHTA’s vision, Confidence wrote the name “Rachel B. Cohen.” on a post-it note and stuck it to her computer. She and Haley were familiar with the intergenerational work of LinkAGES and felt in their bones that some day CHTA and LinkAGES would collaborate. They thought it could take five years, but it only took ten months. . 

We are also pleased to announce that we received a generous grant from Colorado Health Foundation to continue the good work that CHTA has been doing. The funding will facilitate intergenerational cohorts and affinity groups with a focus on youth physical health.

LinkAGES is honored to have CHTA, Confidence, and Haley join us in our mission. Together, we  are committed to advocating for the design and development of age-friendly, intergenerational communities that celebrate diversity, end ageism and embrace collective healing. 

Learn more about Haley and Confidence by reading their bios

(From Left) Maurice Ka, Collaborative Owner of Rosehouse Botanicals, Rachel B.Cohen; Executive Director of LinkAGES; Confidence Omenai, CHTA creator; and Ashley Aarti Beck, LinkAGES Associate. The four recorded a video interview all about CHTA's impact on businesses, youth, and older adults in Denver, CO.

Colorado Grandparents Lead the Charge for our Children

Little girl looking through a plastic toy camera
Early childhood is a pivotal time for mental, physical, and emotional development. Save the Children Action Network advocates for investments in early childhood to ensure all kids are given a head start. Photo by: Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda.

I’m trying to look at the future for my grandchildren and all children. Early childhood education is just that foundation to help them succeed as human beings,” Yvonne Franklin, a mother of three, grandmother of ten, and godmother of many, shared as she spoke about her dedication to Save the Children Action Network (SCAN). 

LinkAGES was fortunate enough to sit down with Yvonne as well as two of her peers, Susan Hill and Kiki McGough, and Annalise Rosomer, SCAN’s Advisor for State and Electoral Campaigns for the Western Region. The topic was how these four women activate, educate, and empower Colorado grandparents to advocate for early childhood education.

Giving Children the Best Life Possible

SCAN is the political advocacy arm of the global humanitarian organization Save the Children. Save the Children started more than 100 years ago with the mission to give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. Across several states, SCAN works with volunteers and advocates organized by a Community action team model.

Community action teams organize, advocate, and campaign for policies and investments in early childhood education– for things like an increase in Federal funding for Headstart programs or unlocking new Colorado funding for full-day kindergarten. They provide testimony to legislative committees, organize events, meet with lawmakers locally and in Washington DC, and help to turn out the vote for ballot measures. Colorado advocates recently secured a universal meal program for all children called the Healthy School Meals for All.

Volunteers are community members, early educators, parents, caretakers, etc. who are experts in early childhood and can commit approximately 10 hours a month to the cause. Community action teams are headed by outreach leaders with commitments of two years– the roles that Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan play now. Part of their responsibilities include identifying, recruiting, and activating potential communities to join their teams.

Identifying a Previously Untapped Resource 

Several years ago, SCAN representatives presented to another philanthropy-minded group that Kiki is involved with, the Optimists.The members– most of whom were in their 80s, and many grandparents– leaned in with curiosity about the needs and solutions for early childhood education. Immediately afterward, the SCAN leaders hit the internet and discovered that there are more than 70 million grandparents in the US. 

“We thought, ‘This is an untapped advocacy group. They care about their children, love their grandchildren, and are invested in their children,” Kiki remembers. “We realized it could be a group where we could make a big change. One of the most exciting things working with SCAN so far has been to activate this group of Colorado grandparents and help them gain the understanding and voice to advocate for their grandchildren.”

Yvonne tabling for SCAN in a park
Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan recognized that grandparents like them were an untapped resource for early childhood advocacy. Pictured: Yvonne Franklin running a SCAN table to increase awareness and investment in early childhood.

There was just one thing. Not every grandparent has the same background as these community action team leaders, however— especially grandfathers. 

“Raised in a time before early childhood education was even a thing, they didn’t have the background. But we could give them the understanding to use their voices to support legislation to help get services and support to young children,” Kiki said. 

Volunteers with a Lifetime of Expertise

Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan are retired from their full time careers, technically, but remain actively involved in their communities, side hustles, and, most importantly, their grandkids’ lives. Covering all of their accomplishments would be three short biographies in and of themselves.

Yvonne was in the tech industry for more than 25 years, and her passion for early childhood education is lifelong. She believes in the village model and has been taking care of children since she was thirteen years old. Her Godchildren, nieces, nephews, and neighbors all gravitate to her and she to them. She joined Clayton’s Parent Ambassadors in retirement as she took on responsibility for her 4-month old great nephew. With more time, she began focusing on political advocacy. 

Susan, the Outreach Lead for Centennial and 2022 SCAN Advocate of the Year, has a background in early childhood and special education. She is currently at Arapahoe Community College, acting as an instructor and consultant for preschools in the community. She has always been actively involved in her eleven-year-old grandson’s life.

Kiki spent 27 years in special education as well as positive behavior support in public schools and also worked with the Colorado Department of Education working with 700 schools on setting up positive behavior climates. She still consults, is the President of the Board of the CO Parent Training and Information Center, and rescues puggles. 

For all of these reasons, they make excellent community action team leads for people who have less expertise than they do. 

Susan Hill, SCAN outreach leader, with her grandson.
Susan Hill won 2022 SCAN advocate of the year. She is pictured with her grandson while working on a postcard campaign for early childhood investment.

The Pandemic Fueled Grandparent Advocacy

The grandparent cohort was formed more cohesively during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and social distancing shifted grandparent responsibilities immediately; in some cases forcing sudden separations and in others, like Kiki’s, grandparents assumed the role of primary care providers. Grandparents became acutely aware of the challenges that many of their children faced, and the opportunity for investment and support to help alleviate these challenges. 

Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan began informally cultivating these communities of grandparents and brought their own networks to SCAN’s organizing. They 

They developed specific outreach with grandparents to either continue their lifelong advocacy for early childhood or to begin their advocacy journeys.

There are lots of reasons people become advocates– fond childhood memories of their own grandparents, the empathic bond they feel with their grandkids, feeling far from their own families, or feeling sometimes a little too involved. 

“‘If I have to do third-grade math for the rest of my life, I’m going to just cry. I want these kids to go back to school,’” Susan laughs as she remembers how the lockdowns inspired grandparents to become more involved in advocating for early childhood support. “We want to go back to being the doting nanas. That has really energized folks to value all of the programs that are out there for all of the families.”

Early Childhood Care is Vital to Families, Communities, and the Economy

Research shows that when you invest early on in quality educational programs, individuals and communities reap the benefits of that into the future. With such a high percentage of households with caretakers working full-time, the need for early childhood childcare is real. The cost is high. Affording that as a family is a struggle– especially for families with only one primary caregiver or those who are geographically distant from their family support networks.

“In Colorado, the cost of living is so exorbitant and affordable housing is scarce. Early childhood care can be the same cost as in-state college tuition. We also have child care deserts in our state which makes it impossible at times for families to find quality care for their children at all,” Susan explained.

As we have all learned in the last several years, early childhood care is a vital support for our workforce and economy. This is actually one way that Susan explains that she connects with elected officials when she is advocating for early childhood education. She looks up if she is going to speak to someone who is a grandparent, which is a straightforward way to appeal to their empathy for SCAN’s causes. If not, she appeals to the logical needs of workforce health and the state of the economy. 


Return on Investment is High for Advocates– Grandparents or Not

Kiki and Annalise at a SCAN event.
Kiki McGough and Annalise Romer at a Save the Children Advocacy Network event. Kiki has volunteered with SCAN for more than seven years after "retiring" from early childhood education.

Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan have accomplished a lot in their time with SCAN. Kiki has been with the organization for more than six years and remains committed. They table events to build their email lists, send postcards, write letters to the editors to raise awareness on ballot measures, and they meet with lawmakers. They also host events such as The Honoring Grandparents Event that Yvonne organized by partnering with Clayton Early Learning Center as well as Beloved Grandfamilies. They celebrated grandparents, many of whom were raising their grandchildren– and attendees wrote postcards to get out the vote for Healthy Meals for All. 

For whatever they put into the work they do with SCAN, it’s clear that Yvonne, Kiki, and Susan receive a great deal back. We discussed the significance of what it means for grandparents to show up for their grandkids. Kiki referred to an Oxford Study about the intergenerational connection that grandparents and grandchildren share that is unique to other relationships in their lives.

“The emotional empathic bond between grandparents and grandchildren is much stronger sometimes than the parent-child. They have a more intuitive awareness of the child’s needs sometimes. The Oxford Study said that when grandparents are involved in their grandchildren’s lives, they tend to have fewer emotional problems and get involved in fewer negative situations. We have a whole population of older adults who have been isolated and who need to be reconnected with the kids in their lives, too,” Kiki told us.

When asked if they would encourage older adults who are not grandparents to get involved in SCAN, their response was a resounding yes. 

Older adults experience social isolation, and volunteering with SCAN provides opportunities to connect with peers and people in your community– maybe going as far as lobbying in Washington D.C.. Beyond that, advocates learn valuable organizing and advocacy skills that can be applied to other areas of your life. 

By advocating with SCAN, volunteers get to see what they’re working on actually happen. The impact that they make is a positive difference in their home state– for their neighbors and for future generations. 


Interested in getting involved with SCAN? Check out their website to find out if they have a presence in your state! 

How Rural Communities are Reweaving Social Ties Amongst Youth and Older Adults

Small rural town
Photo of a small midwestern town. From Unsplash by Josh Berendes.

When you look around your community, who do you see? In the outdoor spaces, community programs, and volunteer positions– which of your neighbors are not only present, but enthusiastically welcomed? Is there transportation to get people to centrally located spaces? Can people access healthcare and civic engagement opportunities? When every neighbor– from the youngest to the eldest– is thoughtfully considered and woven into the fabric of your community, that is how you know it is age-friendly.

There are places, however, where reaching a “yes” to all of those questions is logistically more challenging. In rural towns, regions, and states– even those proximal to more urban areas– transportation, the built environment (e.g. housing, parks and community centers), and access to resources like healthcare and education become difficult. In rural areas that are economically depressed because industry has closed and jobs have gone elsewhere, creating and maintaining an age-friendly community can be even more difficult.

However, if the challenges are great, some rural communities’ motivations are proving their are even greater. In this article, we dive into three rural communities finding innovative solutions to creating more age-friendly places to grow up and grow older.

The Losses of Age-Friendly Rural America

Youth loneliness is a national health crisis here in the United States. At the same time, older adults across the country are experiencing social isolation and its far-reaching health impacts. While distinct experiences, the two are detrimental to the mental health of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones; and both are linked to a lack of social connectedness. 

According to a 2019 poll, 2.5 million rural residents, nearly 7% of the rural population, say they have no friends or family to rely on. An additional 14 million rural residents (~39%) say they have only a few people, (NPR, Robert Wood Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2019).

McGregor, Minnesota, drew the attention of NPR several years back for an article that examined the causes, consequences, and solutions to rural isolation. McGregor and its neighboring towns are beautiful– forested and with lakes scattered about the landscape. But the timber industry, small farms, and local businesses that sustained residents and their hometowns began struggling several decades ago. As it becomes more difficult to make a living in towns like these, young people leave to build careers elsewhere. 

Those who remain experience economic hardship and weakened social ties. The two factors, lower income levels and social isolation, are intertwined. In fact, according to the poll mentioned above, rural adults living in households earning less than $25,000 per year say they always or often feel lonely and isolated from others at a higher rate than those who earn more money, (ibid).

In McGregor, Cheryl Meld, the director of KIDS PLUS, told NPR in 2019 that the economic hardship experienced by families has a negative impact on the families of the people she works with.

The same things that attract people to rural areas– open space, quiet living, wilderness– can also contribute to geographic and social isolation.

“If you talk with kids, they’ll tell you their parents are separated or divorced or going through some kind of substance [abuse] issue, and that’s commonplace,” Meld [told NPR]. “The reality of their life is a lot of disruption, a lot of sadness, a lot of kids filling adult roles in their families lives, helping raise their siblings.”

While kids struggle, older adults experience both geographic and social isolation exacerbated by economic hardship.

“Social connectedness doesn’t require significant financial resources, rather creativity and intentionality. While a rural community may not have an extensive transportation system it does have many opportunities to connect,” says Rachel B. Cohen, LinkAGES Director. “ For instance, Colorado’s Chaffee County is experimenting with a shared intergenerational housing program. Older adult participants open their home to a younger person, who may not be able to afford housing on their own, in exchange for help around the house. Ultimately the  intergenerational connection and shared resources create a mutual benefit for the younger and older generations.”

Intergenerational Programs Reweave the Fabric of Minnesotan Communities

With social ties disintegrating, the only way to create meaningful connection is through intentional design. Minnesota’s Northland Foundation launched the KIDS PLUS Program in the early 1990s to “more actively improve the wellbeing of children in northeastern Minnesota,” according to their website. KIDS PLUS was the jump-off point that led to a family of intergenerational initiatives under AGE to age. Now, the AGE to age programs are rooted in both mutuality and community. 

People doing yard work in a small town in Indiana.


Intergenerational programs that are built around mutuality create a connection based in mutual contribution and benefit. Rather than the model of charitable giving or “serving”, mutuality is rooted in the recognition that every participant is bringing something to the table and is also receiving.

AGE to age: bringing generations together and AGE to age special projects connect young people and older adults to participate in projects together that benefit their communities. While they do so, they build meaningful intergenerational friendships. There are 18 AGE to age sites across Minnesota, each with its own vision statement and action plans, according to the website. The Northland Foundation and its partners also provide technical support, funding, and learning opportunities at each site. Project themes include history and ancestry research, tech learning, and culture and traditions. 

The AGE to age Fellows Program pairs adults 50-years-and-older with a college student to work together in a community-building experience. Together, the Fellows take on projects like community gardens, youth programming, and social engagement opportunities. Both participants are paid, and they develop ideas and take on new opportunities that benefit their entire community. 

Northland Foundation surveys show that 85% of children and youths participating in AGE to age say they have created new friendships with both peers and adults. And 100% of adult participants report increased interactions between older adults and youths in their community, according to Rhitu Chatterjee’s NPR article Bringing Together Young And Old To Ease The Isolation Of Rural Life.

"Ninety-five percent of older adults report a renewed sense of purpose and community connection. And 94% of older adults report decreased feelings of isolation"

These programs create opportunities for meaningful intergenerational connections so that participants feel connected and less isolated. They also build community connectedness overall and ensure that all over the state, neighbors get to know one another while strengthening community ties in age-friendly spaces. Of course, none of this could be possible without the vision and continued, multi-faceted support of The Northland Foundation.

Brass, Electric bikes, and Popcorn Draw Generations to Mingle in Logan County, CO

The vision of Embracing Aging on the Square was a collaboration between the local senior center, a retiree, and Colorado State University (CSU). Their goal was simple: create an annual event to bring community members of every age together. It’s not easy to launch a first-time event, especially one that is a little hard to describe; “Come old and young” is not exactly what we call an “age-friendly tagline.” So when the first Embracing Aging on the Square event in Logan County, CO, attracted only 35 participants and five vendors, the organizers didn’t give up.

Embracing Aging on the Square skipped a year, but when it came back in 2022, the organizers executed their vision clearly. They creatively piggy-backed on a longstanding monthly music event that already drew a crowd (not pictured). The high school jazz band was scheduled to play its monthly concert on the day of Embracing Aging on the Square, directly across the street from the town square. 

Woman sits in front of the Eureka Band
One way intergenerational events can increase attendance is by piggy-backing on existing community event. Photo from Unsplash by Jordan Whitt.

With their regular attendees gathered, the jazz band acted as pied pipers- leading the audience across the street while playing some jazz tunes, and then assembled on the steps of the courthouse to play a mini-concert before the attendees dispersed to start visiting the Embracing Aging vendors and mingling with their neighbors. 

The event included about 20 vendors, older adults on electric bikes and recumbents, a photo booth, a booth with a community survey, the county owned popcorn stand run by homeschooled children, free fresh vegetables from a meal program, and a Latinx group serving samples of foods native to its culture. This time, nearly 100 people attended the event.

By sticking with their vision, the organizers were able to more than triple their attendees and quadruple the vendors interested in participating. Choosing a centrally located area where neighbors had already been gathering for another age-friendly gathering were key components of success for an age-friendly event. 

Building Physical Spaces that Encourage Organic Connection in Summit County, CO

In the previous examples, meaningful intergenerational connections are supported through structured programming and events. Communities can also build spaces where intergenerational interaction can arise organically through the very design of the physical spaces where community members gather. To be designated as “age-friendly,” communities need to provide public areas that are accessible to all ages– both indoors and outside, according to the AARP’s Eight Domains of Livability.  

Summit County, CO’s community center is already a public gathering space that welcomes all ages. As the county plans to expand the building, there is conversation about moving the teen center from its existing location to the building. 

When designing age-friendly indoor spaces, city planners and designers need to consider and blend a number of elements. This includes how to make the physical location accessible and welcoming as well as how to integrate design features in a way that encourages intergenerational interaction and meaningful connections. In Summit County, additional concerns have arisen when community members have discussed merging the teen center with the community center. People wonder if kids will be disruptive or unsupervised. The County isn’t dismissing these concerns, and are actually bringing the questions to the Age-Friendly Communities Interactive Discussions hosted by LinkAGES and the Lifelong Colorado Initiative in September and October 2022. 

“Part of the reason that age-friendly communities are not widespread is that they require intentionality and patience to assess all aspects of the community through an inclusive lens. They require that everyone gets involved and is willing to collaborate–  community members, planners, elected officials, businesses, non profits and funders. That takes time and a mutual understanding of what age-friendly looks like,” Rachel B. Cohen, LinkAGES Director says. “But it’s time for all of us to truly listen to the perspectives of all our community members and learn how to work together to co-create communities that we all want to live in.”


We must recognize how pivotal it is for our communities to feel social connection, to feel like they belong. While it may at times feel daunting, the cost of leaving our community members– especially our youth and older adults– estranged from one another is far too high. Some rural Americans, historically more resilient and creative in order to adapt to their surroundings, are showing the rest of us the way. Intergenerational programs, annual events, and built spaces are just some of the answers of how to create age-friendly communities for all of us.  

Do you want to learn how you can help make your community age-friendly> Join LinkAGES and Lifelong Colorado Initiative for an interactive discussion series this September and October! Learn more and register via eventbrite!

Centura Health Awards $75,000 Grant for LGBTQ+ Intergenerational Storytelling Program

Digital art of a face and identity

LinkAGES is thrilled to share with you that we recently received a $75,000 grant from Centura Health! The Centura Health Equity and Advancement Fund aimed to extend the impact of community-based organizations focused on advancing social justice and health equity across Colorado and Western Kansas. The fund supports Centura Health’s vision of every community, every neighborhood, every life – whole and healthy.

We partnered with Denver Public Library and StoryCenter to collaborate on the grant application. Together, we decided that the Unboxed program was the perfect fit for Centura Health’s vision. The Unboxed pilot storytelling program ran last year, bringing together LGBTQ+ teens and older adults. The program experiments with participatory art making, various mediums, and collective editing while building empathy and connection. 

Unboxed is already on our event calendar! The in-person session is scheduled for November 20, 21, and 22. The three-day, fullday sessions are fully-facilitated and will occur at Lighthouse in Denver. To fill out an application, click through to the event page. 

You can also check out our article about the Unboxed pilot program.

The Realities of LGBTQ+ Teens and Older Adults

School dropout rates for LGBTQ+ youth are nearly 3X the national average. While we’ve written about the youth mental health crisis before, LGBTQ+ teens disproportionately experience loneliness and its mental health reprecussions. These teens, our friends and neighbors, experience stigma, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination and are at greater risk for suicidality. They’re also more than twice as likely to report
persistent sadness, (CDC).

Transgender youth are twice as likely- to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to cisgender and LGBTQ+ youth,
(Journal of Adolescent Health). Risk factors include bullying, trauma, substance use, homelessness, rejection, and more.

LGBTQ+ older adults also experience social isolation at greater levels than their peers, according to research. They face barriers to receiving formal health care and social support that heterosexual, cisgender adults do not due to fears of discrimination, financial instability, and social isolation. These adults are more likely to be single or living alone, and less likely to
have children to care for them. They have higher risks of mental health issues, disabilities, and higher rates of disease and physical limitation. Transgender older adults face additional
experiences of victimization and stigma, (The Williams Intititute).

Age-Friendly Communities: Places to Grow Up and Grow Older – An interactive online discussion series

A banner with multiple pictures showing all ages enjoying their community
The Age-Friendly Communities interactive discussion series will look at age-friendly community design through an intergenerational lens. Community members, nonprofits, elected officials, business owners, and city planners are invited to join!

Age-friendly communities are places where people want to grow up and grow older. They support and engage people of all ages- from our youngest neighbors to our eldest. Their design includes transportation, built environments, how communities share information– and much more.

They are only possible through intentional design and sustained collaboration between the governmental, philanthropic, nonprofit, and business sectors. 

Register for the discussion series by clicking here. You will be brought to our external Eventbrite page. 

Please Note: You must register for each discussion date separately.

Discussion 1: Bringing generations together through intentional age-friendly design September 22, 9:30 am-11:00 am MST

  • Dive into the key elements of an age-friendly community
  • Gain clarity around intergenerational design
  • Hear from experts about examples of communities of all sizes doing this work

Discussion 2: How to create and sustain a community where all people thrive: Tools and tactics for planners and elected officials October 20, 2:00 pm-3:30 pm MST

  • Learn methods and tools to facilitate planning and collaboration
  • Bring your age-friendly community challenges and questions to our experts
  • Hear from planners and officials who have co-designed age-friendly communities

About the Series

In this interactive discussion series, we need to hear from you- community members, local leaders, funders, planners, and elected officials.

We will look at age-friendly communities through the lens of intergenerational connections. What happens when we design programs and physical spaces that encourage meaningful connection across generations?

Presented in collaboration by LinkAGES and Lifelong Colorado Initiative.

Funded generously by the NextFifty Initiative.

Interested in learning more about age-friendly communities? Check out our recent article.

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.


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.


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.


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