Nashville, Tenn. They’ve got the idea. If you just think about it, just a little bit….


A flowered cloth covers the table where Janet Cooper sits with her aunt, a family member and a friend. The ladies chat with Thrive Alliance wellness and nutrition site leader Ryan Dodge as they finish their sandwiches, fruit cups and a drink.

The group has been eating lunch after their free Silver Sneakers exercise classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Brown County YMCA for the past couple of weeks.

“We smelled it. That’s what got me. We could smell it cooking. I went, ‘Oh my gosh, that smells good. What’s he having?’ So of course, we had to follow (the smell),” Nancy Cooper said.

“We just came to check it out, and then we liked the food, so we keep coming back,” Fern Hendershot said.

Dodge isn’t just there to socialize. He’s there to serve nutritious meals and make sure the site runs smoothly.

He is in the former Head Start room at the Y from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions about the services Thrive Alliance offers.

Free lunch is one of those services. It’s served at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays to anyone 60 or older.

“We want to get people out of isolation and engaging with each other,” said Abby Garcia, Thrive Alliance’s wellness and nutrition manager.

“It’s easy to become isolated in Brown County, because Nashville isn’t always easily accessible,” Dodge said.

Filling a need

In 2013, 32 Brown County seniors completed surveys from Thrive Alliance. Sixteen percent reported having at least a minor problem with having enough to eat.“We do get feedback from a lot of our seniors across the five counties that if we didn’t serve this lunch, they would not be eating,” Garcia said.

Fifteen percent of Brown County seniors surveyed in 2013 reported visiting a nutrition/meal site.

Thrive Alliance served meals at Willow Manor Apartments, across the street from the Y, for three years, but they were not reaching many people who did not live there.

“People just assumed it was for the people who lived at Willow Manor,” Garcia said.

“That’s the main reason why we moved here, because this is a much more community-centered public place.”

Before Willow Manor opened, Thrive Alliance used to serve free lunches at Sycamore Valley Senior Center in Nashville. Sycamore Valley has since closed.

The Senior Nutrition Program site opened April 11 at the YMCA. During the week of June 6, Dodge said he was on track to serve 35 to 40 meals.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth at lunch time. The conversation with the seniors is always really joyful and exciting because you get to hear Brown County gossip from the 1950s,” Dodge said.

The Brown County Access bus also provides free transportation to lunch for anyone 60 or older if they call ahead to schedule a trip.

Garcia said a man from Freetown rides that bus 30 minutes each way to get his free lunch.

Branching out

The Y already was in a good position to become a meal site.“We are surrounded by two apartment buildings that are 55 and over and the nursing home. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” YMCA executive director Kim Robinson said.

Access Brown County’s ride dispatch center also operates out of the Y.

“I think the senior population in this county is getting older. … I hope we can enhance their lives and give them something to look forward to,” Robinson said.

Earlier this year, plans had been in works to open a daycare that would share space with the meal site. That would have allowed senior citizens to do activities with preschool-aged children.

Problems with 501(c)3 licensing prevented the daycare from opening, Robinson said. However, she is still open to the idea.

“My big dream was to have intergenerational, to have childcare, then have the seniors come and read to the kids,” she said.


Bridging the Gap in Human Aging

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One of the first tasks UCLA freshman Suzannah Henderson was assigned in the course “Frontiers in Human Aging” called for her to reflect on ageism in America and the negative stereotypes about older adults that are everywhere, from the grumpy old man portrayed on TV to the obnoxious birthday cards that poke fun at dotty old folks.

For Henderson, who had not thought about ageism before, reflection turned into revelation.  “I didn’t even know ageism was a thing, but I learned that it is,” said the student, who completed the yearlong course this month. “It was eye-opening, and that was just the beginning.”

UCLA freshmen are learning about aging and older adults in the classroom and from the elders themselves.

“Frontiers in Human Aging” is one of 10 cluster courses offered to freshmen that are interdisciplinary, explore major issues of timely importance and taught by teams of three or four distinguished faculty members.

Each year approximately 120 UCLA freshmen journey through “Frontiers in Human Aging,” learning about growing old from multiple vantage points —– biology, psychology, sociology, ethics, policy and public health — through lessons delivered by a wide-ranging group of faculty experts and from older adults themselves, via hands-on community service experiences.

While many instructors are brought in as guest lecturers to cover the vast scope of disciplinary approaches to the study of aging, the course’s three core UCLA faculty members have connections to the Fielding School of Public Health, the Luskin School of Public Affairs and the David Geffen School of Medicine: Paul Hsu, adjunct assistant professor in epidemiology; Lené Levy-Storms, an associate professor of social welfare and geriatrics; and Rita Effros, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine who specializes in immunology.

“Our goal is to convey to students the concept of aging as a lifelong phenomenon, and to show students that there are multiple dimensions to the aging process, which is inherently interdisciplinary,” Levy-Storms said.

Students learn that there are positive aspects of aging, for example, the wisdom that comes with experience and the increased time older age affords to giving back to society, she said. The first-year students also gain a fuller appreciation of their elders through an assignment in which they are required to interview someone about his or her life.

“The students tend to forget that older adults were once young,” Levy-Storms said, “or that they will one day be old too.”

Students also learn about aging at the cellular level, including what is known and being investigated about the biological aging processes and the potential to manipulate them for better health. Issues are raised about how gender, race, ethnicity and social environment interact with aging. Ethical questions, economic concerns and intergenerational dynamics are explored. Students delve into aging-relevant policy — from Medicare to the implications of the Affordable Care Act for older adults. Psychological and social elements of aging are discussed, as are the differences among chronological, social and functional age. They find out about successful approaches to remaining mentally, socially and physically engaged later in life.

Hsu noted that nearly all of these discussions are guided by public health concepts, including the importance of prevention and health promotion and the role public health has had in the last century in increasing life expectancy in the U.S. by more than 30 years. “Many students haven’t really heard about public health before,” Hsu said. “I try to introduce them to what it means to treat populations as opposed to individuals, including promoting immunizations and other strategies as opposed to waiting for people to get sick.”

Students also spend meaningful time interacting with older adults in the winter quarter through a five-week, service-learning experience in which they are placed in agencies that serve elders, such as senior centers, assisted-living facilities and adult day care centers. The students keep journals where they reflect on their experiences and link them with classroom and book concepts.

The lessons can be poignant. Henderson spent her service-learning time at a senior living community, interacting with residents who have dementia. She found herself bonding with one older man who reminded her of her grandfather.

“He was a kind, soft-spoken person who would be reading his Bible when I came in,” Henderson said. “He was always eager to participate in conversation. He would talk about how he had done track and field when he was younger and how much he loved physical activity.”

But Henderson learned that people with dementia commonly experience ups and downs in their cognitive and physical functioning. “One day I came in, and he wasn’t doing well at all,” she recalled. “He tried to stand up after lunch, and his knees buckled and he almost fell. It broke my heart to see someone I had really connected with struggling like that.”

Nonetheless, Henderson came away from her year in the “Frontiers in Human Aging” cluster energized, to the point that she is now contemplating enrolling in UCLA’s gerontology interdisciplinary minor and ultimately pursuing a career working with older adults.

“When I was younger I really didn’t think about these things, but in college your perspective broadens, and you begin to become more analytical about the world,” she said. “Now I see older people and realize they are more than just grandparents; they are individuals with a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and life experiences to share.”

Levy-Storms said one of the unstated goals of the yearlong cluster course is that it will lead more students like Henderson to become interested in careers working with older adults or on elder-related issues. “There is such a need and so many opportunities, whether it’s in public health, medicine, law, policy or any other field you can think of,” she said.

The students aren’t the only ones who come away from “Frontiers in Human Aging” feeling energized. “You don’t typically encounter 18-year-olds who are interested in gerontology,” Hsu observed. “To see it in these students is inspiring.”

This story is adapted from one in the spring/summer 2016 issue of UCLA Public Health Magazine.

The Key Benefits of Early Childhood Education

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When children are young, they are learning sponges. Every new experience, every word they learn, every behavior they adopt, is an investment in a more fruitful future.

You can never have a greater impression on a person than when they are in their early childhood years.

Most parents have always inherently understood this and the Government is starting to catch up.

President Obama agreed in his 2013 State of the Union addressStudy after studyafter study reaches the same conclusion: early childhood education has a tremendous impact on life outcomes. Yet only 51% of 3-and-4 year olds in the US are enrolled in full-day preprimary programs, with no improvement in the last 15 years.

Early childhood education is about honing and molding the holistic child, which will eventually form the basis of their lifelong journey.

From my professional experience of more than 35 years as a preschool teacher, I have identified 13 essential benefits of early childhood education:

1. Socialization:

Socialization with people other than the child’s family in a safe environment is an essential foundational element to the below areas.

As parents, we intuitively understand that it’s important to introduce our children to other children and support their transition into their own friendship groups.

The earlier we do this, the better, as it helps children overcome shyness and gain self-confidence. If we leave this too long, we actually hinder their social development.

2. Concept of Cooperation:

Learning how to share, cooperate, take turns and persevere within a safe learning environment, guided by professionals who have the children’s best interests at heart.

This is especially important for the first child, who may not be used to sharing with their siblings at home – while it can be a difficult lesson, it’s so crucial to learn it early.

3. Encouraging Holistic Development:

The approach taken to build a strong foundation for a child’s emotional, social, physical and mental development, which will prepare them for a lifetime.

Early childhood educators are trained in identifying areas where support is needed for each child and building programs and activities around these. Their peers are also extremely important in this regard, as preschoolers are usually helpful, cooperative and inclusive.

4. Enthusiasm for Lifelong Learning:

Lessons should be given in a fun and exciting way that will encourage children to be effective learners. We need to inspire a thirst for learning with eagerness and enthusiasm.

Love of education- for reading, learning, discovery, nature- takes root in preschool.

5. Convey the Value of Education Through Experience:

Grasping the value of learning and education by setting an example as role models and by providing actual experiences.

While parents will always be the most important influence on a child’s early life, introducing them to a preschool environment provides them with a new perspective on the importance of education that will remain with them throughout their schooling journey. It also demonstrates that you value their education highly.

6. Respect:

Teaching the value of respect for others. This is not limited to people and belongings, but can also mean respect for their environment, both immediate and global.

There is no better place to learn this virtue than in a hectic preschool environment, where everything is shared and civility and manners are both taught and learned organically.

7. Teamwork:

Demonstrating and instilling the importance of teamwork that can teach respect for the opinions of others, listening, cooperation and equality.

Many preschool activities are centered around teamwork for this very reason; a person who learns how to work in a team at an early age will ultimately be more socially attuned and more employable!

8. Resilience:

It’s important that early childhood educators and parents work together to develop resilience in children as early as possible. By creating a consistent, secure and fair social environment, with clear expectations and predictable consequences, children can develop skills in managing themselves and their emotions.

It’s a teacher’s job to provide a challenging environment where children can learn through first hand experiences. They may experience bumps, bruises or losing a game from time-to-time, but this is the foundation for building coping strategies for greater challenges in life.

9. Concentration:

During preschool years, children explore at every opportunity to discover new experiences, new friends and new environments. Their minds are so lively and imaginative.

As early childhood educators we need to balance this zest with the ability to listen, follow directions, attend to tasks and participate in group activities to develop the critical life skill of concentration.

10. Patience:

Every day as adults, we encounter situations where our patience is tested. Children need opportunities to be involved in an abundance of social experiences, where they can explore and practice the social skill of patience.

By teaching through examples, role modeling and social experiences, children are able to develop their patience and learn to wait for their turn. Examples from the preschool setting include sharing a teacher’s attention, a toy, the playground or waiting in line for a game.

12. Confidence and Self-Esteem:

This is critical. A strong sense of wellbeing provides children with confidence, optimism and self-esteem which will encourage children to explore their talents, skills and interests.

Positive interactions with other children and teachers will promote a positive, healthy and secure view of themselves that will allow them to approach situations and problems confidently throughout their lives.

13. Exposure to Diversity:

Valuing difference and diversity are crucial to a child’s early development. Early childhood education serves to guide children to appreciate and accept differences and become well-rounded contributors to society.

It is important that children understand that everyone is unique and special in their own way with their own culture, beliefs and ethnicity.

Preschool is so much more than playing. While the basic educational benefits of preschool (such as literacy and numeracy) are tangible, the advances children achieve towards becoming well-rounded individuals are truly invaluable.

Please don’t let your child miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Everyone here has a purpose…ah ho

No matter the frailty or dementia, everyone here has a purpose

Geneva Loveless, a client at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, reads to 2-year-old Caleb Jackson and other children during a story time. The center regularly plans activities that pair adult clients with children.

Geneva Loveless, a client at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, reads to 2-year-old Caleb Jackson and other children during a story time. The center regularly plans activities that pair adult clients with children.

On a recent morning, a group of 2-year-olds joined hands and waddled, flock-like, from the Meerkat room on the east side of the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care to the reading room on the far west side of the building.

Waiting for them there were a couple adults on the other end of the intergenerational spectrum. It took a minute, but soon everyone settled in for some stories.

Paulette Smith, a volunteer, read “Frog Cops.” Spoiler alert. The last line in the book is: “The frog cops lock up the frog with spots.”

Then it was time for Geneva Loveless — age somewhere north of 70, she allowed — to read. And the fairy tale she read pretty much summed up what St. Ann’s is all about.

A grateful fairy rewards a helpful young girl by whispering into her ear the secret to happiness. And so the girl lives all her life in a state of joy. Not until she is very old and still very happy does she share the fairy’s secret:

“She told me that everyone, no matter how secure they seemed, no matter how old or young, rich or poor, had need of me.”

That was the very secret that revealed itself to the center’s founder and president, Sister Edna Lonergan, in the early 1980s.

Lonergan was then the director of rehabilitation for her order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, at its health center in St. Francis.

She got the idea to open an adult day care in the basement of the center. It proved to be very popular.

“We had to hire more people,” she said. “They were mostly moms, single moms. So when the schools were closed, I lost all my staff. They had to be home taking care of the children. So I said, ‘Well, bring them in.'”

What happened next was as unexpected as it was perhaps inevitable.

“We took our babies over to our sisters who were the most frail — the most frail — and we put the babies in their arms. A couple of them started to cry. Not the babies. The adults. They looked at that baby in their arms and said, ‘I used to be a really good teacher.’ Or, ‘Can I really hold this baby? Can I rock this baby?'”

The babies had a gift — themselves — and a need to give it.

The adults had a gift — themselves — and a need to give it.

Each gave meaning to the other. They gave each other purpose.

“If I stress nothing else,” Lonergan said, “everybody needs a sense of purpose. Everybody. It doesn’t matter what degree of dementia they have. It doesn’t matter what age they are. What disability they have. Everyone needs a sense of purpose. Everybody.

In 1999, the St. Ann Center opened its Stein Campus on Milwaukee’s south side. Last year, it opened its Bucyrus Campus, a $21 million facility on what Lonergan said was “two blocks of contaminated soil.”

The 2-year-olds from the Meerkat room are among 100 children, and fairy tale teller Geneva Loveless is among the 90 adults receiving day care services at the Bucyrus campus, which is still under construction.

A dental clinic specifically for people with disabilities will open this summer. Plans also include a state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s care program, an overnight respite care unit and a 500 seat band shell.

Lonergan figures it will take another $3.5 million to finish the place. Then, she says, perhaps she’ll build another.

“I’m a believer that if you put an idea out there, and God wants it to happen, it will hang together.”

Like when she was 3. She remembers standing on the steps of her church, south of Boston, in Braintree, Mass.

She doesn’t remember much else, except the steps and a seemingly very tall nun, dressed as nuns did in those days in a black habit.

“I was in awe,” she said.

“I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to be when I grow up.’ I didn’t know what she did or anything. But I was in awe, and I knew that’s what I would do.”

About Crocker Stephenson

Crocker Stephenson covers public health. He has won many regional and national awards for his stories concerning infant mortality, child welfare, poverty, urban life and welfare reform.

Inaugural Intergenerational Summer Camp

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Last week I got the chance to speak with Mr. Brice Harris, a retired man living in Pasadena, California. Harris is a resident of the Villa Gardens Retirement Community, where people live independently or with assisted living. Before retiring, Harris worked as a college professor, teaching at Occidental College, and is now an active and enthusiastic member within the Villa Gardens community.

This summer, for the first time ever, Harris and others had an idea to launch an intergenerational summer camp. The participants would be residents of the Villa Gardens Retirement Community and students from the nearby Jefferson Elementary School, only a fifteen minute walk away. Usually summer camp conjures up images of big blue lakes, and noisy, rambunctious twelve year olds (and a hard-working, dedicated kitchen staff, but Villa Gardens and Jefferson Elementary are coming up with a new model – Camp Villa.

Unlike some elementary school programs that go on field trips to retirement communities to bring cheer and happiness to the elderly, Harris and other residents living in Villa Gardens are doing their part to bring new and special ideas to the younger generations. If we return to the traditional summer camp model, the residents of Villa Gardens are the counselors, and the 3rd grade students at Jefferson Elementary are the campers.

This inaugural intergenerational summer camp is not the first exchange between Villa Gardens and Jefferson Elementary. Over the years, people living in Villa Gardens have gone to the elementary school to tutor and work with students. Harris pointed out that quite a few of the Villa Garden residents were teachers or professors at some point, so apparently the shine and appeal of teaching never dulls, and helps everyone “stay alive”.

The uniqueness of this camp is of course the age difference between the campers and the counselors. There are eight and nine year old campers playing croquet and going on field trips to nature centers with eighty and ninety year old counselors. My first question to Harris addressed this reality. I was curious about how the kids felt about being around old people. Did the residents get any weird questions? Were the kids afraid or hesitant to interact with the older generation? The answers I received surprised me.

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According to Harris, not only were the kids excited about coming to Villa Gardens twice a week, but they were completely engaged with their eighty and ninety year old counselors. No funny questions, no fear, no suspicion and no anxiety.

When further prompted, Harris said he too was surprised at the openness with which the kids interacted with “dopey old people like me”. When I asked him why he thought that was, Harris said it was hard to say.

Perhaps it is the teaching background of many of the residents. Having made the jump from nineteen year old university students to ninety year old retirees, maybe nine year old schoolchildren is not much of a stretch. Yet not everyone who lives in the Villa Gardens community partakes in the activities of Camp Villa. There are different sectors within the larger retirement community, including those who live in assisted living, who would have a harder time keeping up with the kids. However, those who do not go out and join the activities still sit out and enjoy seeing the kids run about.

For those who are more active, like Harris, hosting 18 nine year old kids five days a week would be overly taxing, so Camp Villa runs only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and, in this inaugural first season, is only in session for the month of June. Like other camps, Camp Villa organizes field trips (last week they went to a nature center, that the kids loved), and brings in outside instructors for special electives. For example, last week, the camp had a swimming program with visiting instructors from a nearby university.

The camp also conducts its own activities with internally run activities. Generally, in the morning some of the more active residents of the community run discussion sections on fun topics. A retired physicist who used to work at California Institute of Technology ran a program last week called “How Big is the World”. These are meant to be exciting, lively sessions meant to inspire and excite the students, and is not, according to Harris, just another name for summer school.2016-06-23-1466640486-6709339-FrontPorchCampVillaBriceHarristeaching.JPG

In the afternoon, following a lunch prepared by the food service team at the Villa Gardens community, activities such as ping-pong, swim, dance and story time commence. The broader goal of the Camp is to get the kids thinking, moving and interacting beyond their own world, but of course the Camp is mutually beneficial, for the same can be said for the Villa Gardens residents.

When I questioned Harris as to why Villa Gardens decided to host a summer camp for over a dozen 3rd graders, he did not have an elaborate explanation. He simply said “Villa Gardens wants to be a more active participant in the neighborhood, and help broaden the horizon of the students”. We as a society tend to exempt retirement communities from community involvement, but perhaps Camp Villa, in their effort to inject themselves into the heart of the youth community, is an example of why we shouldn’t.

Another interesting element of Camp Villa is that the residents and the campers come from remarkably different backgrounds, and do not share a common culture, religion, era or ethnicity. At a few different points in our conversation Harris emphasized this difference. The people residing at Villa Gardens are predominantly, if not all, Caucasian retirees. The students are almost all, if not entirely, Latino. For many of the kids, the camp offers an opportunity to dive into a completely different summer world. Sleepaway summer camp for many of these kids would not be an option, so this kind of camp, where the kids get fun activities and trips, and are provided lunch, is a welcome opportunity.

Harris made clear to me though that the goal of Camp Villa is not in any way related to social work within the community. He wants personal business to remain personal business, and that Camp Villa was solely a place for fun and interaction for the campers and the retirees. So far, Camp Villa has experienced much success with the residents, the children, their parents and the school. Networks such as ABC and NBC have provided coverage of the camp, and though camp has only been in session for one month, the elementary school already has a waiting list, with parents eager to experiment with this new type of summer recreation.

When asked if he had a future vision for Camp Villa, Harris said that he would love to have the camp again next year, and would only increase the font size on his fliers around the community, because residents complained that the type was too small to read.

Tzvi  Miller …. Huffington Post

Try to Imagine

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A society in which young people and older adults are appreciated for the resources they bring to their communities, rather than viewed as problems to be solved.
Communities in which people of all ages some together to serve, learn and have fun.
Public policies that support families caring for vulnerable children and adults, encourage and foster lifelong learning, and ensure that people at all stages of life have access to quality health care and social services.

Still needed, how sweet!

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For almost 40 years, intergenerational pioneers have forged a road of respect and reciprocity. At the heart of the social compact is the understanding that our civil society is based on the giving and receiving of resources across the lifespan. We all need and in turn, are needed at different stages of our lives.

Intergenerational work demands that we recognize the inherent strength of each generation and the need we all share to be connected. One of the original members of the Buena Vista Social Club, a group of wonderful Cuban musicians, expressed this well when he was interviewed at the age of 94. He was asked how he could keep up with his busy performing schedule. He replied, “I can’t get tired. I’m still needed.”