Bridging the Generations

It has always fascinated me how children in schools are taught history, but have never really met face-to-face with those who experienced or contributed to it. The older generation has not been exposed to modern technology, such as computers, cell phones or  iPods. They remember the old Victrola, entertainment through radio, the milkman delivering products, and the terrible depression we’ve only heard about on the news.

I thought it would be a great idea to somehow bring the two generations together.

The seniors would learn about life, the way it is for the children of today. And the children would learn about what life was like when the seniors were growing up 80-100 years ago.

About four years ago, I started the Bridging the Generations program with the local schools in my city. I’ve worked with several teachers on an ongoing basis over the years to bring the two generations together.

The children came to Oak Park to “Meet and Greet” my residents for the first visit. They were paired up with the residents, and prepared to ask questions and listen to the wonderful stories the residents had to tell. They children were amazed! “Wow, you rode in a horse and buggy to school? “, one child asked.

They kids began to look at the residents as individuals. Often times, children are afraid of seniors and view them as old, frail and vulnerable. This program really brings them inside the lives of seniors. They begin to see that aging is something to look forward to, not something to be afraid of.  It is a part of life that we all experience. It’s what you make of it that counts.

The next visit I have with the children is when I bring my residents into their high school. The children cook and serve breakfast to my residents. Last year, East Ridge High School students cooked a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the residents. The student band came in and played for them.  And the drama club, which consisted of the students that are in our program, performed a musical for them. The residents spent time listening to the students read speeches on what they were thankful for, and the students listened intently to what the seniors were thankful for.

The seniors saw first hand the art of text messaging, clothing that wasn’t tailored and multiple piercings. At first, I think they were shocked as to why a mother would let their children go out looking like that!

As the students sat down with my residents, the residents began to look past their outer appearance. They began to have a deep appreciation for the students and understood it was a struggle for independence. The residents gave the kids advice about the importance of education, following their dreams and to not judge a book by its cover. High school kids usually don’t listen to adults.  But for some reason, the children listened to the seniors.

The students learned firsthand about segregation.  They learned it both from seniors who had to be at the back of the bus, and from the ones that could only play with friends who were white. The students were amazed that segregation was really a part of history. It was a very moving experience for both generations.

The relationship between the residents and the students is continuing to grow. We are involved with them once a week and many other times during the month.  New schools continually want to be a part of this program. The kids also come and visit my residents all the time outside of school. They bake for them, pen-pal with them and come to all of our dances.

The hugs and kisses are never ending.

My residents’ faces light up when they see the kids. And the kids cannot run fast enough through the door to hug and kiss my residents. This program will continue for years to come for a simple reason: as much as the kids brighten the residents’ days, the residents have enriched the lives of the children in the very same way. It is very important for children to step back in time and learn about life before the comforts of today. We want to teach them to not be afraid of growing old but to appreciate the lessons they’ve learned.  We want them to understand that life as we know it now was pioneered by those who lived before us.

It is our responsibility to teach children to respect and appreciate the elderly, and I will continue to do my part to bring the generations together.

About the Author: Terri Glimcher is a Contributing Writer at Inside Assisted Living and the Activity Director for Summerville at Oak Park Assisted Living, an Emeritus Senior Living property in Clermont, Florida.

  • Ryan Malone

    Terri – I’ve read this article several times, and I can’t help but think what a fantastic piece it is. Thanks so much for the contribution.

  • Sue Susskind, Certified Senior Advisor

    What a wonderful program you have developed. What an incredible lesson to teach our young people, to appreciate seniors, instead of fearing them. Both generations have so much to offer, what a brilliant idea to bring these groups together, to enjoy and understand each other. Your program is a wonderful gift to all involved.

  • Jay Drayer

    Terri – Thanks for a very well put-together piece. I continue to marvel at the 2-way learning that goes on and has been for years between me (at age 51) and my 95 year-old grandmother. Keep-up the excellent work! -Jay

  • Lou

    Continued kudos for another clearly-written and to-the-point article; I enjoyed it very much. Once again, you have presented your subject candidly and with excellent examples of interactions between residents and students. I look forward to more…

  • Linda Abbit

    What a fantastic program, Terri. You are enriching so many lives! Keep up the great work!

    Has this program spread to other counties or states?
    I hope it does!

  • Terri Glimcher

    @ Thank you all very much for the feedback. Although my program has not been put into place anywhere else that I know of, I think it is something that all activity directors as well as teachers should make as a permanent part of their curriculum. It is very life enriching. I am trying through my writings to show, that life doesn’t stop because you become a senior. It is just lived and adapted in a little different way.

  • Jodie

    What an inspirational piece! I haven’t heard of such programs like this before at ALFs. I will be looking for you when my mom needs to go to an ALF. I hope you keep writing more articles like these. I read quite a bit about senior care and your articles are the best! Keep up the good work!

  • John Brady

    Great program. So many people, myself included, tend to think the gulf between generations is too big. You have proved how much we all can learn from one another. Thanks for the good work, I hope it is copied far and wide.

  • Gina LaGuardia

    What a touching piece. It’s amazing the perspective we can gain when we open our eyes to other generations. I used to volunteer in an assisted living community when I was in high school and to this day, remember the profound affect it made on me. With the work I do now at and with my grandmother in a nursing home, I’ve been able to revive that passion. Really, what I get is way more than what I give… :) Kudos to you, Terri, and to those kids. Keep up the great work.

  • carole

    Beautiful article. What you expressed is so true as my 14 yr old daughter enjoys visiting your residence so much. Her own grandmother is a resident of Oak Park and meeting and sharing with all the other residents has made her realize how much her grandparents do have in common with her although they are generations apart. You are doing a great job and should be commended for your caring and love for folks young and old.

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  • John M.

    Terri, what an absolutely wonderful idea. Although i’m in my 30′s now, I’ve always been extremely intriqued with seniors and their stories of life when they were young. I would have never thought of such an entertaining and educational idea as this. I think, for our seniors, its just as important to help keep them up-to-date on new tech. Even though they may never really use it, it has to be enlightening for them to know what truly exists and an idea of what its used for. I also think its a great way for young people to feel a connection with the senior generation. Teaching/learning is one of the best tools to bring people of all backgrounds together.

    Thanks for the article and for all your doing. We need more innovative Activities Directors like you.

  • Linda Guerra

    I would like to thank you for giving the residents so much of your time.
    You make everyone feel special even the families when we visit.
    Keep up the good job. We need more Terrie’s in the world.
    Linda Guerra

  • Pam Alexander

    What a fabulous idea, but more importantly, what carry-through. I remember my grandmother telling me stories when I was little about what it was like in her country. It can be a fascinating trip to another land for a young person and I am so glad you are now sharing that with others. You are an inspiration to other care givers. May you continue on for many years!

  • Sue Susskind, Certified Senior

    What a wonderful program you have developed. What an incredible lesson to teach our young people, to appreciate seniors, instead of fearing them. Both generations have so much to offer, what a brilliant idea to bring these groups together, to enjoy and understand each other. Your program is a wonderful gift to all involved.