Busting Generational Silos to Build Better Neighborhoods

May 30, 2012

I had the opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. Nancy Henkin of the Intergenerational Center at Temple University, winner of the 2011 Eisner Prize for Intergenerational Excellence.  Among several great ideas and examples that Dr. Henkin shared, one message really stood out: “People don’t live in silos…and neither should solutions.”

While this philosophy could apply to any approach that crosses multiple categories (e.g., geographic, ethnic, cultural, etc.), supporting community engagement efforts to address neighborhood concerns through an intergenerational approach could spur some interesting solutions.

For example, if public safety is an important issue in a neighborhood, how can young people and old people work together to develop a solution?  Young people might say that they don’t feel safe walking home from school because of gangs or other dangerous activity in certain parts of the neighborhood.  The older adults might say that they feel like prisoners in their own homes and don’t go out to garden or walk because of similar fears.

There are numerous nonprofits in L.A. County working on intergenerational collaboration to solve local issues.  One story and solution I heard from a local nonprofit comes to mind:

Retired, older adults who stay at home during the day agreed to spend at least an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon tending to their gardens or to walk and get their daily exercise. These times were coordinated with the peak time periods when young people in the neighborhood walked to and from school.  These extra sets of eyes watching over them ensured the kids got home safely while the older residents had a few hours where they, too, felt safe outside when taking their daily walks or tending their garden.

The seniors turned out to be “guardian angels” for the youth and this in turn, helped the older residents recover their sense of freedom.

If you’re a funder or donor, think about how some of the organizations, communities or programs you support can incorporate authentic engagement and interaction between generations.  The Eisner Prize from the Eisner Foundation awards organizations that help unite multiple generations to improve the community.  Their finalists this year are great examples of how local organizations are applying innovative intergenerational solutions.

And whether you’re an Angeleno or live in another community, talk to younger or older people in your neighborhood. What kinds of common concerns do you have? What are some ways you can work together to make your community a safe, thriving place for all generations to enjoy?

Thanks for reading,

Vera deVera is the Director of the El Monte Community Building Initiative (CBI) at the California Community Foundation.

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