Creating spaces that connect young and old - The best of both worlds

Executive summary

When a new student started at the Jenks West Elementary pre-kindergarten class, she didn’t want to have anything to do with the older adults who lived at the co-located Grace Living Center skilled nursing facility. “She would really scowl,” said Tricia Travers, pre-kindergarten teacher. “It all seemed unfamiliar to her.” But her teachers talked a lot about the “Grands,” and she was never forced to participate. She watched the other students, and Travers or Katy Wilson, kindergarten teacher, or Adele Burnett, school liaison with Grace Living Center, would accompany her to observe the intergenerational activities. Their gentle yet respectful encouragement paid off and “Suddenly one day she just flipped the switch,” said Travers. “And now she ALWAYS wants to goto intergenerational activities!

I’ll never forget the change in her.” It’s not an unusual story at shared site programs across the nation, where children and older adults become a part of each other’s daily lives, and hearts and minds are opened. Intergenerational shared sites pair younger generations with older adults in the same physical location, with periodic activities or programs that
bring them together.

The Grace Living Center and Jenks West Elementary shared site is one of 110 shared sites identified in the 2018 report “All In Together: Creating Spaces Where Young and Old Thrive” by Generations United and The Eisner Foundation. The report which includes the results of a survey conducted with The Ohio State University established a new national baseline of shared sites. The majority of reported shared sites involved children under the age of 5 in childcare or pre-school programs, paired with programs serving older adults in a variety of settings including adult day services, skilled nursing and older adult housing.

“All In Together” also includes the results of a Harris Poll, commissioned by Generations United and The Eisner Foundation and conducted online between Feb. 27-March 1, 2018 that examines public knowledge and views of shared sites and revealed the vast majority of Americans believe intergenerational interactions can address loneliness and isolation and that older adults and children and youth can provide significant support to address each other’s needs. However, only about one quarter of Americans are aware of intergenerational shared sites in their communities.

Intergenerational shared sites make common sense, in terms of reducing social isolation, creating livable communities and positively impacting participants’ lives. People of all ages have built-in opportunities to create meaningful relationships, find motivation, improve skills, and feel the joy of connection. In addition, shared sites create cost-efficiencies of
sharing space, resources, personnel, rent and more.

Shared sites have been documented and studied for decades, yet, they still have not proliferated across the United States. Why aren’t there more of them?

Why aren’t shared sites in every community?

The report was launched at Generations United recent conference in Portland, Oregon, and can be downloaded below: