Creating Connections Across Generations

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.

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.”

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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!

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. 

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.

Transportation

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.

Housing

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.

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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! 

 

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

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.”

Rachel B. Cohen, LinkAGES Director

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. 

Conclusion

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! 

Resources

Grant, H.M., Wilkinson, K. & Butts, M. (2021) Building Capacity for Sustained Collaboration. Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/building_capacity_for_sustained_collaboration

Art Exhibit: The Photography and Memory Project: Connecting Generations Through Stories and Images

An older woman stands with two teenagers with photographs in an intergenerational program for belonging.

Exhibit open through April/May 2022 at Denver Art Museum.

From

“Over the past four years, a community-based program called the Photography and Memory Project brought University of Denver college students and older adults together to share with each other personal snapshots and the stories behind them.

At each session, DU Professor Roddy MacInnes and his students captured the project’s magic by photographing the participants with their snapshots and with each other. In these photos one can see the bonds that formed between the participants through the simple exchange of the personal photograph. In these images, people are laughing and hugging, sometimes looking at the camera, sometimes at each other, but always with an open, vulnerable countenance. Here is life and love, joy and sorrow. Here is our community, in its beautiful diversity. Here is what it means to be human.”

You can see the Community Spotlight Exhibit at the Denver Art Museum!