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The Power of Intergenerational Friendship

Providing seniors with friendship opportunities across the generational divide
The Power of Intergenerational Friendship

During the school year, NewBridge on the Charles resident and artist Gladys Sklar devotes one morning a week to one her favorite activities – volunteering as a classroom aide to art teacher Erica Smiley at the Rashi School on the NewBridge campus.  She opens the classroom door to the greetings of children calling “Gigi!” as they reach for her hand to lead her towards their latest project.

It’s a highlight of Gladys’ week and makes her feel “really fantastic to have them so look forward to me coming to their classroom.” 

“I enjoy just being there for them and for the teacher and sharing in their creativity.  I consider all the children in the classroom my friends.”

Hebrew SeniorLife has a longstanding history of providing robust multigenerational programming to older adults across HSL senior living communities. Through Hebrew SeniorLife’s Adam and Matan Adelson Multigenerational Program, hundreds of seniors in HSL communities participate in multigenerational programming of all varieties, forming friendships with kids ranging in age from preschool through college-age students from surrounding towns.  These multigenerational programs encourage relationship building through regular visits, aiding in the classroom, spiritual and holiday celebrations, and special curricular programs such as the study of immigration and WWII. Moreover, students sometimes become the teachers, as with a new iPad program helping seniors join the technology revolution and learn to use their devices effectively.

From the beginning, the vision for NewBridge on the Charles was to build a multigenerational campus—one where residents and young people would share activities on a regular basis and help break down generational silos. That vision was realized in September 2010 when The Rashi School opened its doors to 300 students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“I’ve seen so many residents form bonds with the students they meet,” said Lynda Doctoroff Bussgang, Hebrew SeniorLife Multigenerational Program Manager. “There is an opportunity for real connection when they share in a learning experience together.”

Friendships have also formed through a pen pal program between NewBridge residents and the students of a local elementary school.  Through letters exchanged over the course of the school year, the pen pals share thoughts and feelings about their lives and interests, culminating in a celebration at the end of the year. 

The special joy of an intergenerational friendship is accessible to all seniors: 

  • Volunteer programs are available in many schools where teachers greatly appreciate the extra time and attention seniors can give to students who often relish having another adult in the classroom. 
  • Classroom aides can help with reading, class work and other special projects. Even those who aren’t experienced with children can benefit from their knowledge and youthful vibrancy.
  • Local youth and community groups are also a wonderful place to volunteer your time and meet young people. Senior communities welcome youth for special programs and celebrations, and even friendly visitors for those who may feel more isolated.
  • For younger people, having an older friend listen helps them feel heard and respected. For older people, having younger friends can help them better understand and connect to the broader culture. From both perspectives, a multigenerational friendship based on common interests and shared experiences can blossom into a rich and satisfying connection.

Visit www.hslindependentliving.org to view all of our video stories of friendship in our Power of Friendship series.

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Jane Baker's picture

About the Blogger

HSL Communities Marketing Manager

As HSL Communities Marketing Manager, Jane oversees marketing, communications and community outreach for all of HSL communities in the greater Boston area. She brings more than 25 years of experience in branding, advertising, public relations and marketing communications with national and international clients.

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