Yesterday, my dog found a sick raccoon in the yard. I called Animal Control and someone from the office came over shortly. Buddy found where the raccoon was hiding and the Animal Control Officer removed him. She and I got talking, one thing led to another and the proposed Intergenerational Center came up.
She told the story of going to Idaho to visit her aged grandpa who was in a nursing home. Her 5 year old son was there and the family gathered around Ed and were talking about him. The nurse in charge said it was time to leave and they walked out of the room but the 5 year old ran back in to give Ed a kiss and a hug good bye. When he climbed up on his chest, old Ed woke up and smiled and hugged the young boy.
The Animal Control Officer told me she had never heard grandpa swear until then, when the nurse went to take the boy away. To everyone’s surprise he said, ” get the f@#*k away and leave us alone”.
Many of the youngest Americans attend daycare. So do many of the oldest. What if kids and elders who needed care during the day spent this time together rather than apart?
They do at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in Milwaukee, which was founded by visionary nun and nurse Edna Lonergan in 1999. Each of the center’s two campuses—one on the south side of town and one on the north—serves preschoolers and frail or isolated elders from morning to evening every weekday. Twice a day, there’s a formal intergenerational activity or class, and there’s plenty of casual mixing, too.
We got to visit these two campuses last week and speak with Sr Edna in person. What she has accomplished is remarkable to say the least. It all started with her vision years ago of watching a small child making an elderly person smile.
Today I took Buddy, my therapy dog down to visit my 91 year old friend Carol. She had been quarantined due to a rash, and I was away for a bit, so I hadn’t seen her for a while.
On my way into the facility, I passed a well dressed, senior resident with dark glasses on, sitting on a bench outside. Her walker was next to her.
“Hi”, I said as we walked by, “are you waiting for a ride?”
She looked up and responded, “No, is that a dog? I don’t see very well. I am sitting here because that is the only thing I can do now, is sit. Bring him over, I love dogs.”
I brought the dog over to her for a pet, which they both enjoyed.
“If you can’t see very well, I am warning you that there are big dark clouds right in front of us. If you feel a drop of rain you better get inside.”
We continued our walk through the building and up the elevator to Carol’s room. She was laying in bed.
“How are you? I asked as I walked over and gave her a kiss. Buddy was busy eating all the crumbs on the floor.
“I am better but not that good,” as she sat up. ” I was quarantined for so long, it is hard for me to walk anymore, so I just stay in my room. I can’t make it to the dining hall. Do you know how far that is?” It wasn’t far before the quarantine but that was then and this is now.
Carol and the unknown lady on the bench reinforce for me, the need to make it better for these elderly citizens. These ladies are just old, their minds are clear but they ‘re just wasting away. And there are many more of them all over.
I had been aware for sometime of a growing movement in the United States for Intergenerational Care as a solution to our burgeoning elder population. What surprised me at this conference was the fact that it is a global concern. Representatives from Japan, China, Singapore, Spain, Portugal, England, Italy, Ecuador, Canada and Australia were in attendance and we learned of what is going on or not, in their countries as far as intergenerational care for the elderly.
There are many solutions to the problem of our aging population. We learned about specific communities, to relationships with children, recovered addicts, college students, animals, elders in schools and more.
We also learned that in many countries, governments are not taking care of this problem which leaves private industry, religious movements and civic groups to fill in. One comment by a woman from England, was ‘I think it should be a right for elderly people to have appropriate care’ .
There was huge camaraderie among the 300+ attendees of the conference. Everyone was searching for a way to make it work, so that there are no more frail, lonely elders by themselves anywhere. These bookend generations, young children and the elderly describe who we are as a global community. They have been segregated for years. The solution is to reunite them and watch the magic happen.
Improving the lives of children, youth, and older adults will be the focus of the Global Intergenerational Conference, co-hosted by Generations United and St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care.
Held at the Hyatt Regency in Milwaukee, June 13-16, the 19th biennial conference will spark new ideas and energize attendees to tap into the strengths of all ages to build stronger communities.
Themed “Generations Remixed,” the event will bring together more than 250 attendees to learn, network and share the latest research, programs and policies in the intergenerational field. With participants from 11 countries, the conference will attract a broad audience including community leaders, business executives, advocates, researchers, educators, funders and caregivers. Educational sessions will cover such topics as Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, How Technology Links Generations, Lifelong Learning, Senior-Youth Mentoring and more.
Featured speakers and honorees at the conference include:
“Sen. Baldwin has been a strong champion for children, youth and older adults on issues ranging from health care to education to elder justice,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United.
“It’s vital that we value the gifts of older people and the positive effect they have on the growth of our children, and the power of our young to bring joy and a sense of purpose to older adults,” said Sr. Edna Lonergan, OSF, presidents of St. Ann Center. “We are excited to partner with Generations United in promoting intergenerational programs as a social, spiritual and economic solution.”
Three pre-conferences will be held to start the event. On Tuesday, June 13, and the morning of the 14th, St. Ann Center will present a Replication Summit, providing in-depth training on how to replicate its world-renowned model: a shared-site that provides intergenerational day services for children and adults, an overnight respite center, wellness center and aquatic center serving the community. Generations United will host a Grandfamilies Forum, Raising Children of the Opioid Epidemic, also on the morning of the 14th. With the rise in heroin and other opioid use, grandparents and other relatives are increasingly stepping in to care for children whose parents cannot. An interactive bus tour on Wednesday afternoon, will visit three innovative programs that are connecting generations in Milwaukee: the United Community Center, Cherry Street Garden by SET Ministry and St. John’s On The Lake in partnership with Stage Right Theatre.
Additional conference highlights include 25 workshops with presenters from Penn State University, AARP, Cornell University, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, Kinship Services Network, the University of Granada, San Diego County and more. There will be poster sessions, roundtable discussions and networking opportunities. A special Midwest Showcase on Thursday will spotlight regional intergenerational programs and projects.
Special intergenerational entertainment will be featured, as well. The Jazzy Jewels older adult dance troupe will perform with the Xalaat Africa Drum and Dance for Life, an ensemble from Milwaukee High School Of The Arts, at the Wednesday evening conference kick-off. The Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra will perform during the Generations United Award Luncheon on Thursday.
Celebrating 50 years in 2017, VISIT Milwaukee is the Greater Milwaukee area’s convention & visitors bureau, marketing the destination as a top choice for business, convention, and leisure travel to national and international visitors to increase the economic impact of tourism in the region.
Grandma discovered emoji.
And now reading texts from her is like decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics.
“Puppy, kitten, heart, heart, thumbs-up, hockey stick, sunshine, heart, book, tulip, heart!” she sent to my 12-year-old son.
“What happened to English, Mom?” I queried.
“I asked the boys how the pets are, how their hockey game was and reminded them to study,” she explained. “They understand.”
Actually, they do. And in that simple act — being able to text like them — my mom has an immediate and daily connection to her grandkids. In the senior world, that makes her a digital ninja.
But she is not a typical 70-year-old. And not everyone has a patient Verizon store guy to come to the rescue.
Realizing that, three teenagers from D.C.-area high schools hit on something vital they could do to make a difference.
“We all have experiences with elderly people who are having a hard time understanding apps or texting or something (that) we always knew how to do because our generation has always been around this stuff,” said Hannah Docter-Loeb, 17, a junior at D.C.’s School Without Walls High School and the digital oracle in her household.
She and her friends have knowledge. They have skills. They could help.
So they called around to various organizations that hold computer training classes, but nothing was as flexible, simple and targeted toward grandparents as they wanted. So they started their own thing: GTG Tech.
The GTG stands for Generation to Generation. Grandkids to Grandparents. Giving the Gift.
GTG Tech is three 17-year-old girls. There’s Hannah plus Kaela Marcus-Kurn and Aviah Krupnick. And they hold training sessions at libraries, senior centers and community halls once a month. It’s a nonprofit group that’s growing as their friends join in to help.
But it’s not like they’re trained computer experts, the girls reminded me. They’re working on the simple, everyday tasks that digital natives take for granted.
“We just grew up in this, so we know how to do it,” said Kaela, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. “And since I’ve started doing this, I’ve become a lot more patient with people. This is like a whole new language, a whole new vocabulary for them.”
The majority of retirees seeking their help are women.
They had an 80-year-old who just wanted to figure out how to text her boyfriend while he was on Cape Cod. There was a senior who threw a computer into the trash when it got a virus. Another showed up with the giant box monitor, tower and keyboard on a luggage rack to learn how to send group emails. And there was a woman who didn’t understand why her new Apple laptop wasn’t connecting to the outside world.
“They told me how to fix it. Oh, let me check my notes here,” said the 87-year-old, flipping through her legal pad. “Wi-Fi! That’s it! I needed Wi-Fi!”
The kids keep a document highlighting the most serious problems they’ve come across.
“Some of them are really sad, actually,” Hannah said. “Like the ones where they just click on these scams and end up losing money. That’s when we know we’re helping.”
But there is also something magical about the formula, the intergenerational exchange that happens when young and old interact, especially when they aren’t related.
“It’s like a blood transfusion. It’s about more than computers,” said Renee Dunham, 78, after the teens helped her with text messaging. “I learn a little bit about their lives. How they organize their lives, their phones. What they’re listening to or what tech they’re using.”
And, Dunham observed, it came with no strings attached. No long debates with her granddaughter about hair and makeup, no reminders to tell her grandson not to slouch.
“Like you can’t teach a family member to drive. That never works,” Dunham said.
But the exchange goes both ways.
Although it might be easy to make fun of Grandpa when he brings in his three maxed-out Hotmail accounts and isn’t sure how to delete emails, the teens have learned that he was once a hottie who flew warplanes. Or the lady walking with a cane used to be a ballet dancer.
On a recent Saturday at the library, every GTG Tech slot was full. And for three hours, the teens gave digital advice to many interesting seniors: a retired linguistics professor, a pioneer FORTRAN programmer, a former wire service reporter. They also met Evelyn Idelson, a 91-year-old who remembered working at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when the federal government rolled in the first computers that took up an entire room.
Funny how a computer that fits in the palm of your hand can now feel intimidating.
The teens helped the folks connect with their grandkids, their friends and their shopping accounts. They transferred historic photos and old wedding pictures from computers to emails. They hooked people up with Twitter handles — they’re not going to let President Trump dominate the over-70 Twitterverse, no way. They helped seniors build Facebook pages and showed them how to use FaceTime (hold the phone in front of your face, not against your ear).
And yes, they covered emoji, too.