Intergenerational Engagement Is Still Strong—and Still Needed

By Sara Wildberger

But pandemic concerns closed the doors to many such programs—and both young peo- ple and older adults missed the interactions. Fortunately, there are groups like Encore.


org, where innovation and overcoming challenges are in the DNA. In addition to legacy programs such as one where older adults help teach children to read, the group encourages collaborative intergenerational programs through fellowships, sharing best practices, and disseminating ideas and models. Eunice Lin Nichols, vice president for

innovation, runs the Gen2Gen Innovation Fellowship. In this email interview, she describes how intergenerational programs continued and grew even during the pan- demic and looks into the future. More in- formation about programs mentioned can be found at

Q. Many changes in intergenerational contacts were necessitated by the pandemic. Can you talk about a few? A. Many in-person, site-based intergener- ational programs were able to successfully pivot to virtual programming. Grandpas United in White Plains, N.Y.,

shifted intergenerational hangouts to online, meeting weekly by zoom and doing virtual field trips to places like the Baseball Hall of Fame. Oasis launched a virtual senior center, Oasis Everywhere, which offers technology education classes to help people avoid isolation during the pandemic. Oasis includes basic cybersecurity concepts in all its courses because of the alarming growth of internet-based frauds and scams targeted specifically to older adults.

or many, intergenerational programs are some of the most popular and engaging activities in senior living.

Q. Some organizations experienced a surge of innovation because of challenges. Did Encore experience this? A. We launched the Gen2Gen Innovation Fellowship—pivoting to make it virtual—in the midst of the pandemic to call on the nation’s most talented innovators and en- trepreneurs to marshal their best ideas to create and scale intergenerational solutions to a growing number of critical problems. Three of our fellows developed inno-

vative intergenerational projects in direct response to the pandemic: • Two weeks into the pandemic, Dana Griffin launched Eldera, a technology platform that pairs kids from around the world with vetted elder mentors for weekly virtual conversations, story time and activities.

• Aditi Merchant, a student at UT Austin, and two of her friends launched Big & Mini, a virtual platform that matches older and younger people.

• Rowena Richie and the co-founders of her performance collective, For You, re- sponded to the pandemic by launching “Artists and Elders,” pairing artists and older adults, one-on-one.

Q. Did you find more people wanted to give or get help or get involved? A. In the first six months of the pandemic alone, we engaged nearly 4,000 activists and program innovators through virtual webinars and virtual programs. More recently, Encore. org hosted a virtual Gen2Gen Fellowship Showcase, engaging more than 400 people.

Q. What do you think is ahead for intergenerational programs? Will some continue virtually? A. I don’t think there’s any going back! We


Change Agent Profile

Eunice Lin Nichols Vice president for innovation

saw many unexpected benefits from virtu- al programming, including the ability to meaningfully engage older volunteers with more limited mobility and to provide consis- tent programming in the face of inclement weather, traffic, or shorter winter days. Plus, the process of equipping and

training older adults to use technology in intergenerational programs has been shown to increase their self-esteem, happiness, and sense of community connection—and to enable them to more easily connect with family members, including their own grandchildren. At the same time, we all deeply miss

in-person connection. I think many in- tergenerational programs will seek hybrid models going forward.

Q. Did the pandemic change your perceptions about the need for intergenerational programs? A. It has never been more important for older and younger generations to band to- gether to form a web of support around one another. Intergenerational programs that play a critical role in ensuring new habits of care, connection, and collaboration across generations are the ones that will last long after the pandemic is over.

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