In 1996, a survey of 2,000 adults conducted by the Eisner Foundation revealed something startling about intergenerational relationships. About half of respondents said that aside from family members, they rarely spent time with people older or younger than themselves. Just over three quarters of them wished there were more opportunities in their own communities for different age groups to meet and interact. One thing almost everyone agreed on, though, was that kids and seniors could benefit from building intergenerational relationships.
Bridging that gap is the driving force for five visionary young adults, all of whom are winners of the MIT AgeLab’s 2021 OMEGA scholarship awarded to high-school students designing and leading programs fostering intergenerational connections in their schools and communities. For their remarkable work—particularly during a global pandemic that made forming personal connections more difficult than ever—each student received $5,000 from sponsor Five Star Senior Living toward college tuition, and their school or community partner received $1,000 to continue its intergenerational efforts.
Here’s a look at each of their innovative initiatives and how each student plans to continue connecting generations in the future.
Aliso Niguel High School, Aliso Viejo, CA
One titanic shift caused by COVID-19 that was especially challenging for seniors was moving almost everything virtually. Sabine Arndt had a plan. When the pandemic hit, Sabine was largely responsible for moving Technology Tutors—a group founded six years ago to teach technology and promote multigenerational relationships—to a virtual format where student tutors could continue meeting with older adults weekly by phone.
One of those older adults was a community college professor who told Sabine that the stress of moving her classes online was leading to many sleepless nights. Through Technology Tutors, Sabine was able to help guide the professor through mock lesson zoom calls until she felt confident teaching again.
Sabine is currently a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying political science but says she plans to stop by the Technology Tutors center whenever she comes home to catch up with seniors she’s worked with.
“I have learned so much from the seniors but most importantly that they have so much to share with younger generations the same way we learn from our friends,” she says. “I know that I will always volunteer to work with seniors in this way as it is so satisfying to help them re-connect to the world.”
Lexington Intergenerational Outreach Club – Project Wisdom
Darren Tran and Armaan Tipirneni
Lexington High School, Lexington, MA
In the summer of their sophomore year, Darren Tran and Armaan Tipirneni read a book for their English class that changed their lives—There There by Tommy Orange. In it, there is a character who films interviews of native elders in order to learn more about them and to share their histories. Inspired by the book, the pair launched Project Wisdom as an initiative of the Lexington Intergenerational Outreach Club they co-founded. Its mission is to foster a tight-knit community of citizens from all walks of life, promote respectful interactions and the sharing of wisdom. Much of the group’s community work comes from students volunteering to help older adults with tasks, such as yard work, moving furniture and troubleshooting technology. Yet, Darren and Armaan say what the students gained was just as valuable as what they gave.
“It’s helpful to receive wisdom from those who are much older than us because they have had more life experiences,” they said. “The pandemic was a big reset for a lot of us so these interviews allowed us to sit back, reflect and learn.”
Gilbert High School, Gilbert, SC
When senior living communities shut down to visitors due to the pandemic, Alli Brophy started brainstorming ideas on how to help residents feel less isolated. That desire to help alleviate loneliness—for seniors and students—sparked Generations Connections, a club for students age 14-18 and older adults to form meaningful and long-lasting relationships with each other through phone calls and letters. The program has been so successful that the director of a local senior center told Alli that residents lit up when they received a letter or call and it was one of the highlights of their week. Alli says a few graduating senior students even plan to continue to call their older adult match every week despite no longer being part of the club.
Though Alli no longer heads the club now that she’s a freshman double majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, she says Generations Connections plans to incorporate in-person activities once it’s safe with senior citizens at the local senior center to help strengthen intergenerational bonds the students and seniors have already formed.
“There have been so many times where the senior citizen I call thanks me for taking the time to call and talk to them, saying that it means a lot,” she says. “Hearing them say that to me on several occasions is something that has really stuck with me and has made me realize that small acts of kindness or calling someone can really brighten a person’s day.”
Community Voices: Speaking Truth
John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, Roxbury, MA
In 2020, a community needs assessment that took place in Boston, MA found that feelings of isolation were a particular struggle for Black and Latinx seniors. That gave C’Lannye James an idea. With a focus on Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston with a predominantly Black and Latinx population, C’Lannye joined the Community Voices: Speaking Truth program and started co-coordinating virtual wellness check-ins that connected youth participants and older adults so the seniors would have someone to talk to, catch up with and trade stories with—all key to alleviating loneliness. She’s also spearheaded an initiative to create a computer education curriculum to help seniors learn how to manage their health with various technologies. She’s now in college in New York studying environmental chemistry but looks forward to seeing the program expand.
“Relationships between young people and our seniors are the key to strong communities,” she says. “As COVID-19 restrictions lift…Community Voices hopes to engage in socially distanced, in-person activities with elders to encourage physical wellness in addition to the social wellness facilitated by the check-ins.”
The Five Star Difference: Community Connections
As a leading provider of senior living hospitality and care services, OMEGA scholarship sponsor Five Star understands the importance of fostering social connections, including intergenerational relationships, for older adults. Many of our communities partner with local schools or youth groups to promote these types of connections. Find a Five Star Senior Living community near you to learn more.