Connecting Generations Takes More Than Carols, Cookies and Candy Canes


Carols. Cookies. Candy canes.

It's the holiday season. Time to send the kids to visit a nursing home.

Though these once a year visits may cross a "to do" off the season's list, they seldom satisfy the yearning all year long for another set of "cs."

Conversations. Connections. Companionship.

Events that mix the generations briefly might seem sweet but they can prove to be more harmful than not by reinforcing stereotypes and sometimes causing humiliation.

Painful humiliation. Like the older volunteer whose hands were crippled by arthritis. She was told to tie a child's bow and left the room in tears when she couldn't do it.

She could have read. She could have listened. She could have done so many other activities with the children that would have built bridges and not broken her spirit.

If only the program had been well thought out, based on reciprocity between the generations and young and old were prepared to meet one another.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was born 124 years ago this month, was a tireless proponent for weaving all ages together. She said:

"If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life."

We short change all generations if we settle for once a year encounters rather than ongoing exchange and engagement.

Conversations. Connections. Companionship.

It doesn't have to be rocket science. Many groups around the country and around the globe have proven this.

A few examples to consider:

San Diego's Sunshine Care invites young students to join in twice a month to participate in the Intergenerational Garden Club. Together older and younger germinate seeds, tend to plants and eat the fruits of their labor.

Powell County Senior Center in Deer Lodge Montana where high school students volunteer in the senior meals programs and preschool children come to eat lunch with the elders and sing. The center saves dollars while making sense by using space to connect generations rather than separate them.

Bridges Together in Massachusetts operates in 20 communities through school-based programs connecting children and older adults to learn and laugh together. They've created tools to help bridge generations including their "Grand Conversation Cards" guaranteed to spark intergenerational discussions.

Hawaii's Iolani School offers students multiple opportunities to interact with "kupuna" or elders. For example, the One Mile Project teaches students about issues facing older adults and then turns classroom learning into community services projects with elders.

Chanute Kansas' School Greeters program features older adult volunteers at local schools. Their job is simple-when the doors open they shake hands, high five, give hugs, visit with and share a smile with each student as they enter school.

So this holiday season, don't settle for carols, cookies, and candy canes. Shot for the moon.

Commit to conversations, connections and companionship.

As we welcome 2016 let's keep the season of giving alive all year long. Why? Because we're stronger together.