The gulf between generations doesn’t have to be big. Creating opportunities for high school and college students to connect and interact with seniors is a positive and rewarding way for both generations to learn from each other. These connections help both young and old alike feel comfortable with people who have different life experiences and may ultimately lead to lasting friendships and relationships that benefit everyone.
For caregivers, finding these opportunities for connections beyond their tight circle of family and friends can give them a welcome break from their daily responsibilities. In addition, older adults who connect with younger people have the opportunity to share wisdom about careers, personal choices and life experiences. At the same time, young people offer companionship, insights into current cultural influences, and energy that may be missing in seniors’ lives.
Aditi Merchant is the founder of Big & Mini, an app he and his partners created during the pandemic to connect isolated seniors to young people. He said he’s most enthused about the opportunity for older adults to mentor young adults in their careers.
“Creating Big & Mini was our way of solving two problems at once,” Merchant said in an interview on Medium.com. “From the perspective of the ‘Big,’ they are gaining companionship, while on the side of the ‘Mini,’ they are gaining access to mentorship. For example, if there is a senior citizen who was previously a nurse, we can try and match them with a young adult who is a nurse or nursing student. Big & Mini was started in response to COVID-19 but is helping to solve a problem (social isolation), which exists well past the scope of COVID-19.”
Find an organization connecting seniors to young people
If you think connecting your loved one with a young person would be beneficial to them (and you), several organizations can help find the right person with whom to develop a friendship that can become a significant part of their life.
Council of Independent Colleges
If your older adult has financial challenges and would benefit from help tackling key life challenges that make their life difficult, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) can help. Their Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults program benefits low-income seniors by offering support, while helping to keep college students enrolled at their schools through a student stipend grant program.
Seniors interested in community activism and political involvement will find a place to get involved at Encore.org. This organization seeks to connect young people and older adults to create change together through various ways, including the Gen2Gen fellowship program, a virtual conference, and volunteer opportunities for older retired professionals to connect with young adults in their field.
If your loved one has an extra room for rent, Nesterly can match them with a college student or young adult looking for safe, affordable housing and companionship. Nesterly’s goal is to bring people from different walks of life together as roommates to encourage interaction, social awareness and create bonds. Of course, each living situation is different, but if your senior would benefit from extra income and has space to spare, Nesterly may be a good solution.
The unique aspect of Perfect Pair is the activities catalog the service uses to help their senior and college student pairs connect virtually. Pairs can choose from many different options, including crafts (such as embroidery, painting or making greeting cards), book or poetry reading, going together on virtual tours of museums, and many more. These activities help break the ice and give pairs a common interest and topic of discussion that can open the door to a more meaningful connection. (As restrictions continue to relax, Perfect Pair looks forward to adding in-person activities such as cooking and light exercise.)
Silverkite focuses on the arts and connecting seniors and young people through online workshops and intergenerational theater productions in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Community centers and senior living facilities across the country can sign up with Silverkite to create experiences for their residents and members through the Silverkite programs. Also, Silverkite offers dementia-inclusive options for those with memory disorders.
Creating friendships that cross generations is not unusual: In fact, nearly four in 10 adults have a friend who is 15 years older or younger than they are. Learning from those whose lives have been different from our own is always helpful in keeping people old and young alike open-minded, informed and curious.