Intergenerational Programming: Linking Generations in Service and Knowledge

A variety of factors have caused younger and older generations to be less connected than they used to be.
  • Children are very busy with school
  • Parents are working full-time
  • Grandparents live in other states instead of next door
  • Neighborhoods are no longer united through a sense of community

First Intergenerational Program

According to Generations United, a national organization which is described as, “the central source of information on intergenerational programs and maintains an online directory of programs around the world”, the very first intergenerational program started in 1963. You may recognize it, The Foster Grandparent program! It was created as part of “The War on Poverty” initiative. The purpose of the Foster Grandparent program was to enable older adults 60 or older who were lower income and lonely to help children who had special needs. Since then, intergenerational programs have taken on many forms and now include all ages and social issues.

What is Intergenerational Programming?

According to the Illinois Department on Aging, intergenerational programming includes “volunteer programs that bring together individuals from different generations to work in mutually beneficial activities.”

Benefits of Intergenerational Programming

Benefits of intergenerational programming according to Generations United Fact Sheet: Benefits of Intergenerational Programming:
  1. Brings together different diverse groups of individuals to help combat negative stereotypes
  2. Allows for an avenue for older adults to exchange values and traditions to younger generations which helps encourage tolerance.
  3. Funding sources take notice of programs that benefit the community and are more likely to support this type of programming
  4. Helps to alleviate problems that arise because of changes in family structure, drug use, violence, and bridging stereotypes and cultural differences
Benefits for the younger generation:  Generations United Fact Sheet: Benefits of Intergenerational Programs reports the following benefits for the younger generation.
  1. Opportunity to learn social skills: Specifically how to communicate, problem solve and have a positive attitude towards aging.
  2. Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs have a 46% decrease in illegal drug use, 27% are less likely to begin using alcohol and 52% are less likely to skip school.
  3. Increases stability. Children and teens benefit from having a role model who they interact with on a regular basis.
  4. In schools in which older adults worked with students 15 hours a week, the student’s reading scores were higher.
Benefits for the older generation:
  1. Increases socialization
  2. The younger generation can teach the older generation about how to use and benefit from current technology
  3. More emotional support and less loneliness and boredom
  4. Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories each week, fall less, use canes less and do better on memory tests

Examples of Intergenerational Programs

  1. Helping an older adult to record oral history
  2. Teaching older adults English as a second language
  3. Teaching computer classes
  4. Mentoring children
  5. Taking care of babies and young children at a daycare center
  6. Tutoring
  7. Guiding teen parents

Intergenerational programs in Chicago

  • Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly Chicago chapter has a unique intergenerational program. Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, Chicago chapter, partners with local schools to bring elders and young people together. Examples include; a kindergartner class who had recently learned to count to 100 had a few 100 year old older adults visit them and discuss their experience; sixth graders while learning about poetry visited with older adults and wrote poems about their time with them later sharing the poems as a gift with those very same older adults; and high schoolers interviewed older adults for a history class project.
  • The Foster Grandparents Program is for grandparents who are 60 or better, meet specific income requirements, love children and be willing to volunteer. Foster grandparents help children who are abused or neglected, support teens and young Moms through mentorship , care for premature babies and children living with special needs.
  • Caring Connections For Seniors is a program that pairs older adults with volunteers of different ages. The volunteers make friendly visits, telephone calls and help the older adults with errands and transportation.

A Win-Win

As the economy is recovering, intergenerational programs are a win-win for both agencies who have to stretch resources further than before and older adults who may be recently retired or need to continue working in order to pay for their bills and are looking for an opportunity to give back their communities. Younger members of intergenerational programs are also benefiting through gains in self-esteem and self-efficacy and show increases particularly when they have a role model who they can see on a regular basis. Caring Connections For Seniors, The Chicago Bridge International Community Garden, Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, and the Foster Grandparent Program can all help those objectives be met. Please share other intergenerational programs you are familiar with. Help an older adult get connected today! **Thanks to SFA Union City for sharing the photo used in this post.

One Comment

  • Aryn Alschuler
    There is a course on Intergenerational Programming at Oakton Community College. When I took it years ago it was focused on young children with older adults in programs that brought them together either in a kindergarten or a nursing home. I believe this course is part of their Early Childhood Education program. It has no prerequisites.
    There are established ways to introduce the programs to the different prospective partners if you want to put one together. And this article is an excellent tool to do so. Also there are ways to introduce younger ones to the differences they’ll encounter with older adults such as withered hands, papery skin, walkers and weakened eyesight. is a website with activities to look at. – has activities and other valuable links to become better informed of the extent of interest there has been at the EPA and several universities!

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