Youth & Elders Program
Research shows that strong ties between generations result in psychological, social and economic benefits. Through the decades, our culture has continued to move elders from a place of honor and prominence to a place of uselessness. With that came a cultural epidemic of ageism toward older people. The erosion of respect, empathy and compassion within our society correlates with this movement from top to bottom of the elders. Thus, there became a growing need among youth for a focus on social/emotional learning or social/emotional intelligence. Likewise, the epidemic of bullying among youth of all ages continues to grow and now, worsened by the addition of cyber-bullying. Experts in this phenomenon of bullying agree that bullies all lack compassion, and that this cannot be learned but must be experienced first-hand and internalized in the core of one’s being.
The Bessie’s Hope Experiential Learning Program offers this experience by providing to youth, preschool through high school ages, in schools and other youth groups the education, preparation and training that enable them to have comfortable and meaningful interaction in nursing homes and assisted living facilities with elders of all cognitive functioning levels, including advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. In this mutually beneficial program, intergenerational relationships are cultivated. The elders are seen as resources of vast wisdom from life experiences. They are empowered, as they share their stories and advice. They feel needed and valued, as do the youth who gain increased respect for self and others. Their communication, leadership and academic skills improve while giving the elders companionship, intellectual stimulation, joyful social interaction and a sense of inclusion. In this structured service-learning program, all the activities have volunteers participating “with”, not doing things “to” or “for” their “grandpartners.”
Get your group involved!:
SERVICE-LEARNING UNITED WITH SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL LEARNING
Because of exemplary intergenerational programming, the Bessie’s Hope founders have been asked to present at state and national level Service-Learning Conferences. From preschool through high school ages and into higher education, the Bessie’s Hope Youth and Elders Program has been successful with public, private, charter, parochial schools, home-schoolers, universities, vocational schools with healthcare programs, and residential treatment homes for teens with behavioral issues. The intergenerational programs are equally successful for all community youth organizations.
For schools, teachers have the option to blend the nursing home experience into the schools’ curriculum and to fill out the academic and psycho-social objectives for each visit on the Activity Planning Form. Reading and writing have always been part of each visit for ongoing school groups. The youth are trained to position themselves in a way that enables their grandpartners to also see the reading material. In this way, they are actively engaged while the youth read, and sometimes, they are asked for help. This is empowering to the elders, and for the youth — reading confidence and fluency are increased.
READERS THEATER — Research has shown that Reader’s Theater provides modeling of fluent reading for struggling readers, makes repeated reading easy and fun, and improves student participation. Choral reading instills confidence, enhances vocabulary and comprehension, and can be used to address academic standards in any and all subject areas. Elders eagerly participate in this project, again feeling very much a sense of belonging with the group. Reading material has been dialogue from plays, poetry, biographies of famous persons recognized by the elders, Bible verses by church schools, etc.
LIVING HISTORIES — Youth from all youth groups find this to be an enlightening and enjoyable activity. They interview their grandpartners by using questions from a variety of Bessie’s Hope Living History themes. The elders share their life experiences and wonderful stories, and the youth capture them in written biographical sketches. Bessie’s Hope youth gain the ability to be fully present with someone and to listen intently. In subsequent visits, the stories are shared with the entire group. The youth read their grandpartners’ stories, using a microphone to enable all to hear. In addition, the youth present the stories to the elders in booklets, poster board, or laminated pages. Group Leaders often augment this learning experience with additional reading assignments or creative assignments, such as making something that is representative of an important part of their grandpartner’s life.
The Bessie’s Hope youth/elders programs are grounded in respect for all. Youth and elders feel valued and needed by each other. The elders in the nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer youth unconditional love. At-risk youth bond with the elders, and they trust the elders. They feel they can “be themselves”, while at the same time, they learn social skills, life skills and academic skills. In our programs, youth are seen as having resources rather than deficits. Substance abuse declines; disciplinary problems decrease; and academic achievement improves. Bessie’s Hope programs reach out to at-risk youth with positive options that give them heightened self-esteem, a sense of belonging and the joy of positively impacting the lives of others–alternatives to replace drugs and violence in their day to day lives. “They’re like my inspiration.” (16 yr old girl) “I’ve found a new me inside–one that’s kinder.” (18-yr old male)
Bullying is a serious national issue—Dr. Jodee Blanco, one of our country’s pre-eminent voices on the subject of school bullying says, “Here’s the issue: the whole problem is a lack of compassion. If we can cultivate a sense of kindness and compassion in our kids at an early age and encourage the social neurocircuitry (how our brains are wired) in a positive way, then it is most often possible to prevent bullying.” She shared that compassion cannot be taught, but must be experienced, and “Bessie’s Hope provides this experience.” The youth express in their feedback sessions that they really care for their grandpartners. Adult participants have reported that aggressive behavior toward peers lessens, due to the youths’ visits with the elders.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT FOR LONG TERM CARE INITIATIVE
This is an opportunity to introduce high school age youth from schools or youth organizations to the vast careers and jobs within long term care and other services for older people. See the page for this initiative.
BECOME AN EFFECTIVE INTERGENERATIONAL GROUP LEADER
Receive the education and training to implement a high-integrity intergenerational program. Learn how to provide age-appropriate information and training for the youth and subsequently, be able to facilitate meaningful, comfortable, fun, intergenerational visits that are mutually rewarding for both the youth and the elders–of all cognitive functioning levels. Be part of transforming lives and strengthening society through compassion, empathy and respect, which are cultivated when you bring generations together in this deeply meaningful way.