The benefits of intergenerational programs
The topic of generational differences often sparks conflict, igniting good-natured sparring between baby boomers and millenials. Sometimes the sparring isn't so good-natured. Diversity training, however, teaches us to understand and then appreciate each other's differences. This appreciation of the differences is much more beneficial than the sparring.
There is, in fact, great value to bringing different generations together intentionally. The benefits can be experienced on an individual level as well as on a community level. Especially during difficult times when people need to feel a sense of belonging, positive intergenerational interactions can provide a much needed boost.
Older adults can gain a renewed sense of purpose when sharing their experience and skills. Younger generations can reimagine aging, thereby face their own aging more positively. For everyone involved, new skills can be learned and negative stereotypes dispelled.
As the director of the Westlake Community Services Center, I frequently see and hear the generational biases, and in some cases watched them transform. Some of our older adults expressed that they gained a greater respect and understanding of teenagers after working with a group of them on an intergenerational senior prom dance last spring.
The energy and enthusiasm brought by our youth was contagious. Our youth were equally impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of our older adults. Everyone agreed that this needs to be an annual event!
Through partnering with the Westlake Council of PTAs, and Westlake Schools, our Center has been able to build an ongoing intergenerational programming piece in our Plus Fifty calendar of events and activities. Our most recent activity had 50 middle school youth walk over to our center to share Cocoa, Cookies and Conversation with our seniors.
The room was lively with laughter and conversation as our guests shared different Christmas traditions with each other. Activities were planned to help prompt positive conversations, but they really weren't needed. A great time was had by all.
Many more intergenerational experiences are on deck for 2023. Our January and February Pathways newsletter, which can be found at www.cityofwestlake.org/community-services, lists three such opportunities: Intergenerational Family Feud, Mind the Gap (a trivia game) and chair volleyball. The first two activities are with our high school-aged Youth Advisory Board, and the chair volleyball is with the Dover Intermediate School service club.
We are also anticipating more artwork and decorations from the local elementary school children, who decorated pumpkins for us in the fall and made place mats thanking our veterans in honor of Veterans Day. After our recent Christmas luncheon, patrons were sent home with homemade cards and ornaments made by these youngest scholars. One of our patrons wrote back stating how much she loves having the homemade pictures to post on her refrigerator, stating that it reminds her of the "magic of Christmas." Her own children are grown-up and grandchildren live far away.
To find out more about these and other Plus 50 programs at the Westlake Community Services Center, visit our city's website, www.cityofwestlake.org, or better yet, drop by and ask for a tour. We are located right next to the Westlake Recreation Center. Our address is 28975 Hilliard Blvd. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. You do not have to be a Westlake resident to enjoy our activities.
I am the Director of the Community Services Department for the City of Westlake. I am also a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor.