I recently came across this powerful image. It’s a picture of a young man helping an older woman cross the street. The caption reads, "A couple of months ago, an elderly lady asked me to walk her home because she was scared she was going to slip on the ice. We've become friends and now I walk her home almost every day." This image captures the beauty of intergenerational relationships. Intergenerational relationships are grounded in friendship, respect, and understanding.
As a pioneer in intergenerational programming, H.O.M.E. knows that connecting people of all ages helps people of different generations understand each other better and creates stronger communities. This is particularly relevant today as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King once said “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
Here five ways intergenerational relationships help create communities that would make Dr. King proud.
Interenerational relationships help us ...
Develop a common ground.
One common misconception about intergenerational relationships is that people are not likely to get over their differences. While it’s true that each generation is unique it is also true that we have things in common. When we develop those intergenerational relationships by spending time listening to one another, we find out what those similarities are.
Build communities that care.
When we communicate with one another and talk through our differences we are able to develop strong relationships and even stronger communities. Strong relationships lead to people doing things for others. Perhaps a young person checks on their neighbor if they haven’t seen them for a day or two. Maybe the older person thinks of them and makes them cookies.
We see witness neighbors doing nice things for one another every day in our housing program. For example, last St. Patrick’s day, one of our residents, Anastasia, knitted a hat for Ethan our youngest resident just because she wanted to do something nice for him.
Develop empathy and resiliency.
We learn life lessons through intergenerational relationships. Growing up I always loved hearing about how my grandparents overcame the struggles they faced when they were young. It provided me with an opportunity to understand where they were coming from and learn from their experiences.
Studies show that for younger people, talking to older adults may help them feel heard and respected. On the other hand, for older people, developing relationships with young people can help them better understand the “newer” culture.
Learn about history in a meaningful way.
There’s something special about learning how someone has experienced history throughout their life. Sure, we can watch Dr. King’s speeches or read the words he wrote, but hearing how someone else experienced Dr. King’s life is a different story. When we develop intergenerational relationships with older adults and listen to their stories, not only do we hear about significant events that have taken place in history but we also develop a better understanding of how those events shaped peoples’ lives and made them feel. It’s a powerful learning experience.
Foster a spirit of service.
Studies show that older adults that develop strong intergenerational relationships are less likely to feel isolated and are more likely to be active in their communities.
Today, Martin Luther King Day has become a "Day On" instead of a day off. Each year, Americans across the country, inspired by Dr. King's life, come together to serve their neighbors and communities.
Looking to get involved and develop relationships with some seniors? There are many ways for you, your family, or a group of your friends can volunteer at H.O.M.E.!
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