Generations United – Building Bridges

Golden Gate Bridge

Someone needs to power up their PC and churn out a children’s book about a “grandfamily” a.s.a.p. Does anyone know of such a book—featuring a grandparent or other older adult raising young children? I know many grandfamilies, teachers and librarians would find such a book helpful and the only one that comes close on my resource list is Uncle Elephant about a young elephant spending time with his older uncle while his parents are lost at sea. A very unique organization, Generations United, has launched a significant effort to support “grandfamilies” (see G.U. is working to improve the lives of children, youth, and older adults in many ways using true collaboration between generations.

Recently I was privileged to hear Generation United’s executive director, Donna Butts, speak here at an Osher Lifelong Learning lecture, and chat with her at lunch afterwards. Donna is a bright and gracious woman totally dedicated to helping children and older adults succeed in our society. She dubs them the “bookend populations” and views them as “partners in the search for well-being.”

Donna believes many older adults truly want to contribute in meaningful ways such as tackling childhood hunger or literacy, but often they simply haven’t been asked. “According to new research conducted by Participant Media and and, adults over 50 describe a strong desire to help make the world better for those younger than themselves” (Huffington Post 11/20/2012.) Yet Donna shared that sadly nearly 40% of older adults report no regular interaction with other generations. Surely we can mix things up better than this! A vital and talented “work force” with the time to get involved—waiting for an invitation…

Next Steps:

We can all take note of Generation United’s ideas of how to contribute to the well-being of kids and older adults with four types of intergenerational programs:

  • The young serve the old
  • The old serve the young
  • Young and old serve together
  • Young and old under one roof

Donna spoke passionately of the need to “build bridges, not silos,” with each generation separated from the other. She shared that children not used to being around older adults will draw a picture of a person hunched over and sad. (Just the type of age stereotype we can also dilute with more children’s books that portray the gifts and strengths of older adults.)

Recommendations from G.U. include:

  • Consider the impact of every action on each generation (think big, think policy)
  • Recognize and support every generation’s ability to contribute to the well-being of family and community

Are you launching a volunteer program? How can you reach out to older adults? Running a reading program? How can you bring young and old together? Donna shared a Michigan effort created by a mother and daughter clocking many hours on the road as the teen put in her required hours of supervised driving. They paired the needed car time with their area Meals-on-Wheels program and delivered hot meals to elders. As the mom of a teen driver I am personally looking into reviving this terrific idea. It’s time to amp up the creativity in our communities and use our resources wisely—that includes people.

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