Creating Connections Across Generations

Unboxed Digital Storytelling Workshop 2022

Unboxed Flyer with a rainbow exploding out of a box representing the shared stories of LGBTQ individuals

LinkAGES and The Denver Public Library are partnering with StoryCenter to create and facilitate a storytelling program that will connect you with 8-12 (4-6 from each generation) LGBTQ+ elders with LGBTQ+ teens. Through three, full-day facilitated sessions, you will use creative engagement, participatory art-making, and collective editing to discover and shape transformative stories from your lives and share them with your fellow participants. This process will build empathy and connection among the different aged members of the group.

StoryCenter facilitators will guide you through a collaborative creative process using images, music, and voice narration to make your stories into short videos.

DATES OF WORKSHOP:
Pre-Session (Virtual, on Zoom) – November 12th, 2022, 11am-12pm MST

In-Person Sessions:
Session 1 – Sunday, November 20th 2022, 10am-6pm MST
Session 2 – Monday, November 21st 2022, 10am-6pm MST
Session 3 – Tuesday, November 22nd 2022, 10am-6pm MST

Free and in-person. You must be able to attend all meetings.
You will also receive a stipend of $250 for your participation.

You do not need tech skills or previous arts experience to participate.

Technology: This workshop requires that you bring a laptop.

If you do not have access to certain devices, we may be able to provide this for you!

To get a feel for what Unboxed looks and feels like, check out our article about the Unboxed Pilot Program from 2021.

 

Your facilitators will be:

Jonny Chang photoJonny Chang: A recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Jonny is a creative writer, performer, budding musical producer, filmmaker, sound designer, artist, and change-maker. He is an advocate for diversity in the arts, and is passionate about ensuring more people of color, people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, women, and other marginalized groups are given platforms for their voices on- and off-screen. He hopes to one day become a full-time artist, while lending his expertise to the next generation. He reps the 510 to the fullest and enjoys watching the sunset. BA, Communication Arts and English Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Holly McClelland photoHolly McClelland: Holly is a graphic designer, filmmaker, editor, and expert rock skipper living in Denver. Since joining StoryCenter as a facilitator in 2012, she survived cancer– all the while keeping her sense of humor. Holly played a big role in a storytelling project with the Positive Women’s Network in Colorado, holding space for women living with HIV. She is passionate about ensuring more people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum are supported with story work and making sure their voices are listened to. She is a Denver native and enjoys spending time in the woods on skis, listening to the sounds of the forest. She has her BFA in Graphic Design and Painting from Colorado State University.

This program is a joint project of the Denver Public Library, StoryCenter, and LinkAGES. It is generously funded by Centura Health and Equity Advancement Fund.

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).

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

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. 

Intergenerational connections: a solution to isolation and loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

Social isolation is life-threatening

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

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

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Meaningful connections are a basic human need

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

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

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

Intergenerational programs create the space and opportunity for connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intention, purpose, and necessary components

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Involving more communities for greater healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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