Creating Connections Across Generations

Creative Aging + Well Being Convening

How can art support healthy aging? Join the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and fellow creative aging practitioners who work with older adults, programs, and services to…

  • Learn about creative aging
  • Make connections with colleagues
  • Experience the DAM’s creative aging programs

The Creative Aging + Wellbeing Convening is a day-long event designed for professionals interested in exploring the field of creative aging through hands-on learning and small group discussions. The program includes: 

  • The Future of Creative Aging panel discussion: Keynote panel discussion on creating reciprocal community partnerships, integrating arts into existing services, and building staff capacity. 
  • Program Sampling: Experience firsthand the DAM’s programs and spaces designed for adults 55+.
  • How to Design for Wellbeing workshop: Interactive workshop covering design and evaluation tools using a wellbeing lens.  Participants will receive a printed toolkit that they can use when designing their own programs.

LinkAGES is a proud supporter of this event.

Age-Friendly Communities: An interactive discussion series

An interactive discussion series with community leaders, elected officials & planners. How can we design communities where all ages thrive?

About this event

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. 

Please RSVP via Eventbrite.

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.

ReelAbilities Film Festival: A Festival Accessible for All

ReelAbilities Festival in Denver Banner

Staenberg – Loup Jewish Community Center is thrilled to host its 2nd annual ReelAbilities Film Festival, which is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. This festival brings people together to engage in stimulating conversations around inclusion, access, and justice, leveraging the power of cinema and cultural engagement to challenge the status quo and build a more inclusive and equitable world. ReelAbilities Denver is for everyone including those with disabilities, disability advocates, artists, allies and more. Hosting this international festival in Denver brings this programming to a local level, fostering partnerships with area organizations doing incredible work to serve disability communities and advocates, and utilizing our platform to highlight these partners and connect festival goers to their programs and services. 

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.”

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 NextFifty Foundation, Centura Health Equity and Advancement Fund– 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. 


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! 


Grant, H.M., Wilkinson, K. & Butts, M. (2021) Building Capacity for Sustained Collaboration. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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.  

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.


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.


Powell, A. (2020, May 4) Social distance makes the heart grow lonelier.

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.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, (2021, December). Protecting Youth Mental Health.

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

Gonzales, E. phD, Kruchten, R, & Whetung, C. (2021, March). Generations United:Making the Case for Intergenerational Programs. 

Parker, P. (2018) The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters. Riverhead Books.