SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: The benefits of intergenerational outreach

Maureen Wendt

Intergenerational programs bring together youth and adults, offering them opportunities to interact and create ongoing, beneficial relationships for the participants as well as the greater community. For children, intergenerational programs offer benefits such as improved academic performance, enhanced social skills, decreased negative behavior and increased stability, according to education.com.

And, there are a number of benefits of intergenerational programs for older adults, too, including:

Enhanced socialization — Sometimes all it takes to motivate yourself to get up and get involved are a child's shining eyes and beaming smile.

Stimulated learning — Intergenerational activities help children meet academic standards in social studies, reading, and writing. In addition to helping children achieve their educational goals, intergenerational programs also assist the child psycho-socially. And, imagine what their young brains could teach you.

Increased emotional support — Intergenerational programs give older adults the opportunity to participate in meaningful activity, decreasing loneliness, boredom and depression while increasing self-esteem.

Improved health — Also according to education.com, older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20 percent more calories per week, experience fewer falls, are less reliant on canes and perform better on memory tests than peers.

Seniors have special gifts that make them well suited for connecting with young people. If you are interested in a special volunteer opportunity working with the youth in our area, The Dale Association is looking for volunteers for its intergenerational programs. The intergenerational relationship between The Dale Association and Lockport City School District is unique and has been established for 20-plus years. With the expansion of volunteers, more youths will be able to participate. Volunteers are currently being recruited for "Pen Pals," "HISTOP" and reading programs.

"Pen Pal" relationships are established to reinforce writing skills. The student and senior write and exchange five or six letters throughout the school year and meet at the end of the year in a group setting. The end-of-year meeting reinforces conversation skills and adds an element of fun for the students (and of course the adult, as well!). All cards, stationery and writing materials are provided.

The fourth-grade intergenerational program, HISTOP or History Sharing Through Our Photographs, reinforces the social studies curriculum. Teams are formed with the seniors and fourth graders alternating weeks when they present photographs and/or memorabilia to share and talk about. One session the seniors present and the students listen, with a discussion that follows. The following session the students present to the seniors, with a follow-up discussion. HISTOP provides resources that help structure and reinforce learning of oral history, while developing listening skills, conversation skills and confidence among students. You need not be a history buff to participate; this program has a unique way of turning life experiences into a history lesson.

The intergenerational reading program helps students strengthen their reading skills. Volunteers listen while the student reads and then they have a meaningful and fun discussion about the story. Volunteers work with the teachers throughout the experience. Their volunteering is flexible based on the number of students.

All intergenerational programs enhance the learning curriculum for the subjects. Time frame is ongoing with the start and stop of each school year. The ideal volunteer is an adult with a passion for helping children with their learning experience. Orientation and ongoing training are provided to the volunteers. The volunteer intergenerational approach augments the school's curriculum and nurtures the social and emotional growth of the student to want to achieve academically; what better way to "bridge the generation gap" than with positive role models.

For information about these programs, please contact Sherry Livergood, volunteer coordinator at The Dale Association, at 433-1886, extension 109, or sherry.livergood@daleassociation.com.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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