Ask people about intergenerational sites – where older citizens and youth are paired together at the same physical location – and they’ll mostly tell you they have never heard of it. But almost all of them will also tell you it’s a great idea.
Such is the dilemma, and opportunity, reflected in a report released today by leaders in the movement to free up more shared spaces where the elderly and young people interact. There appears to be widespread embrace of the notion, but little awareness that there is an existing effort to build the national network of shared sites already in motion.
“While far from a household name, shared sites may well be a concept whose time is now,” said the report, “All In Together.”
“There’s a convergence of opportunity at hand, brought about by a variety of factors including the demand for quality children and youth services, the need for creative older adult programs and limited local, state and national resources for construction and rehabilitation of facilities,” the report said. “The use of space by multiple generations makes common sense.”
A Harris Poll, commissioned as part of the report by The Eisner Foundation and D.C.-based advocacy group Generations United, found that just 26 percent of Americans “are aware of places in their community that care for children/youth and older adults together.”
However, 94 percent of Americans believe the elderly have skills that can help youth in need, and 89 percent believe youth have assets of value in helping the elderly. Both groups share a risk factor that can be addressed: the mental health dangers associated with loneliness and isolation.
“Shared sites can transform how people interact and relate to each other within their communities,” said Trent Stamp, CEO of The Eisner Foundation, in a statement announcing the report. “Not only are the settings cost-efficient, but the older adults and children that are in those settings become happier and healthier as a result of being together.”
Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, said part of the problem is a badly needed better marketing.
“I think there’s a branding issue. You know, ‘intergenerational shared sites’ … eek,” said Butts. “We haven’t shined a light on what these look like for people.”
The model of intergenerational sites has been around for a while – it sprouted in the 1960s, a tiny regiment in the greater War on Poverty launched by President Lyndon Johnson. According to research done by Generations United and The Ohio State University, there are at least 105 sites in the country right now.
Though they carry a common thread – two demographics, and one roof – the existing sites vary in the nature of programs and services. Bridge Meadows, in Portland, Oregon, is a community where adopted former foster youths live with elders. In Swampscott, Massachusetts, the town replaced an overcrowded high school and a bad senior center with a new building where students teach technology to seniors, several of whom volunteer in the school library.
Interest in building more shared sites grew in the mid-2000s, as the nation moved closer to a boom in the number of people younger than 18 and older than 65. Butts said the rising tide was stemmed by the Great Recession in 2008, but that “things are starting to pick up again.”
Interest in the model has grown abroad as well. United for All Ages, a policy and advocacy group in the United Kingdom, has set the goal of 500 U.K. shared sites by the year 2022.
Another challenge to building the base of shared sites is licensing, Butts said. “People are realizing this is a model that is innovative, but the regulations and accreditation don’t line up. There are ways we’ve made it hard to put these models together, we have to make it easier and more common.”
Click here to read “All In Together.”