Creating Connections Across Generations

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!