“Tell me, and I forget; teach me, and I may remember; involve me, and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin.
It’s safe to say that no young person has ever succeeded without an older mentor. Oprah Winfrey had Barbara Walters; Apple founder Steve Jobs mentored Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; news anchor Walter Cronkite credited his high school journalism teacher for his famous career; and musician Ray Charles remembered befriending a curious 15-year old boy in the late 1940s. That kid turned out to be music composer and producer Quincy Jones, who himself discovered and mentored numerous artists, most notably Michael Jackson.
Of course, these are famous examples, but the same thing applies everywhere an older person is willing to share experience and expertise and involve himself or herself in a young person’s life. Countless studies have shown that interactions between young people and older people through various activities and hobbies is mutually beneficial — and makes for stronger communities. And we’re lucky to live in a place where those kinds of connections are valued.
In 2012, Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting intergenerational best practices, awarded its first Best Intergenerational Communities Award to the Charlottesville area. That happened in large part because of the work that the Jefferson Area Board for Aging had done creating intergenerational programs at its six community senior centers. Today, JABA also has intergenerational programs at its Shining Star Preschool and Adult Care Center.
Studies have concluded that intergenerational connections actually improve the health of older people and give younger people more self-esteem and better socialization skills. It’s also a way to weave together the social, cultural and historical fabric of a community. One good — and literal — example of that is the Memory Quilt that students at Charlottesville’s Clark Elementary School created with residents of Crescent Hall, a public housing location for the elderly and disabled near the Downtown Mall. Students were paired with elder quilters to learn the skills and create images that defined their community.
“It was interesting to see what places were represented,” explained Aaron Eichorst, arts coordinator for Charlottesville Schools, in a statement on the project website. “I remember seeing several drawings of Spudnuts, a couple of the Paramount Theater, the ice rink, a couple of churches … it’s interesting that these are the places that our students identified as important places in their lives. This project brought to consciousness these places that are special to us. It also demonstrated that quilting is a craft that people still do today. These kids were able to see themselves creating something important.”
Indeed, when just one older person touches the life of a younger person, when a connection across generations is made, the fabric of our community becomes stronger.