Picture of members of the Second Acts cohortPhoto and post by Emily Merritt, director of intergenerational initiatives at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

Pictured: Second Acts cohort members United Neighborhood Houses of New York (UNH), Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service, and BakerRipley recently gathered at UNH for a small group peer learning workshop.

I recently joined hundreds of other professionals at the American Society on Aging’s annual ‘Aging in America’ national conference. This four-day convening was an incredible opportunity to hear trends and new approaches from across aging services. Most sessions provided critical and informative content and discussion around how to best provide for our oldest, most frail, isolated adults with the services they most need and deserve.

However, my presentation about the Second Acts for Strong Communities initiative, given with colleagues from Encore.org and ReServe, was just one of a handful of presentations that focused on older adults as an asset—a population ready and eager to contribute their time, talent, and expertise to their communities. I was struck by this imbalance and the huge opportunity for our society and our sector to tell another story about aging—one that positions older adults as contributors, doers, assets, and problem solvers. We, as social sector leaders, need to be advocates of age-inclusive approaches and champions of intentionally creating opportunities for purpose and connection across the entire lifespan.

If our missions are to create stronger communities, we must find ways to engage people of all ages in our community-based initiatives. With May being Older Americans Month, this is a great opportunity for your organization to reflect on and plan for ways to better leverage the abilities of experienced adults in support of the youth and families you serve. I ask you to do this not just because intergenerational programs are “nice,” but rather because all members of our communities need opportunities to authentically engage with people across the lifespan if we are to achieve a healthy and equitable society.

Examples for Inspiration

These approaches from a few of the Second Acts demonstration sites might provide some inspiration:

  • Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service is bringing 50+ talent into classrooms to provide an extra hand and layer of support to teachers and their students
  • Ascentria Care Alliance is recruiting mentors to provide an open ear, friendship, and guidance to teen mothers living in a supportive residence
  • OhioGuidestone is leveraging the maturity and reliable schedules of adults 50+ to work with youth in its computer lab on their residential campus
  • Child & Family Service is using the expertise of professionals 50+ in the community to provide career exploration and guidance to youth

5 Next Steps

To start benefiting from connecting generations, here are five recommended action steps:

  • Talk with your leadership teams and program directors to explore how the integration of adults 50+ (as volunteer mentors, coaches, readers, supports, etc.) can support youth outcomes and strategic goals
  • Develop intergenerational programs that reflect emerging best practices from the Second Acts cohort. We are finding that successful programs are reciprocal, meaning both parties are engaged to share and learn; they focus on building genuine relationships over time; and the relationship is based on doing something together
  • Download the free 10 Steps Guide for Engaging Adults 50+ Toolkit for clear, comprehensive recommendations on how to best develop opportunities, recruit and best engage 50+ talent once in the doorWork with staff to explore how to develop an organizational culture that is welcoming and supportive of volunteerism and people of all ages
  • Check out Older Americans Month resources and integrate them into your communications to recruit new adults 50+ to your organization, as well as recognize the efforts of those currently engaged

To learn more from Alliance members that are integrating intergenerational models, join us for a fast-paced PechaKucha presentation at the Alliance National Conference , to be held Oct. 15-17 in Denver.