Historically, the family with its extended network was responsible for the various nurturing, educational and economic functions required to maintain and support its members. Over the course of the last century, however, America has become highly segregated by age. Family functions were assumed by a range of age-specific institutions. Children attend age-segregated schools, adults work in environments without children and adults over 65, older adults live in age-segregated housing, and both children and older persons are cared for in age-segregated facilities.
As a result, the old do not have relationships with the young, the young do not understand their elders or the aging process. For the past decade, older Americans, families, youth and children have all struggled with the severe cutbacks in essential health and social programs. The myths and stereotypes that result from separating the generations in combination with shrinking resources fosters tension between the generations.
Intergenerational programs increase cooperation, interaction and exchange between people of different generations by actively bringing together younger and older people. Through intergenerational programs, people of different generations share their talents and resources and support each other in relationships that benefit both the individual and their community. These programs provide opportunities for individuals, families and communities to again enjoy and benefit from the richness of an age-integrated society and have proven particularly effective in meeting numerous needs of individuals and the communities in which they live.
The benefits to older adults, children, youth, and communities are numerous. Studies show that active and engaged older adults remain in better health. Older adults who volunteer live longer and with better physical and mental health than their non-volunteering counterparts. Volunteerism and civic engagement among youth has many benefits including developing skills, values, and a sense of empowerment, leadership, and citizenship. Communities overall are strengthened because resources are used more effectively and there’s an increased sense of diverse groups of people coming together.
What is intergenerational exactly? And how is that different from multigenerational?
Intergenerational – implies that multiple generations are intentionally communicating, working together, and connecting. An intergenerational program values and maximizes the strengths of each person and generation and focuses on facilitating interactions between the generations.