1. Keep the experience short and simple (at least at first). Youth today are very busy in after-school activities so they won’t have a lot of extra time on their hands. However, once they try something simple in an intergenerational program, some will get “hooked” and become your most reliable volunteers in the long run (and maybe future employees too!). Try different things to see what works best for you.

2. Make interaction really meaningful for everyone. Ensure youth have the opportunity to be eye-to-eye, face-to-face with their older partners. Calling BINGO or Christmas caroling or doing a craft is certainly okay, but many youth will LOVE the chance to really get to know elders in a deeper way – if you can help them get started. Older adults will enjoy the chance to talk about history, lessons learned in life, their families, and what it was like when they were little. Bridging the generations together is the key to success. It’s important to help them break down walls and start communicating deeply…preventing just talk about the weather, health, food, etc. Also, make sure to include people with memory loss in your intergenerational programming.

3. See everyone as a volunteer. Older adults are volunteering to share their lives with a younger person. Youth are volunteering to share their lives with an older person. Everyone is giving. Everyone is gaining! Older adults will be more apt to participate if they realize how much they are helping the younger people. Young people who have grown up with text messaging and electronic gadgets, desperately need to learn how to have an eye-to-eye conversation. Youth need to learn empathy and to walk in an older adults’ shoes.

4.  Use technology if possible. Young people enjoy technology. Kids today may be able to bring their laptops or tablets with them to work with older adults OR pair up youth and seniors on your PCs. Give them something meaningful and safe to do online together (ex. creating the older adult’s biography at LifeBio.com is one idea).

5. Involve the parents of youth too. When a group of 8th graders in the Chicago area finishes a few weeks of interviewing residents at a retirement community and creating their biographies, the students and their parents are invited to a reception for the Life Celebration. The parents see how much their children have gained from the experience and it increases the parents’ support of the idea.  

6. Involve the families of older adults too. Make sure families have the chance to be part of intergenerational programming. Children and great-grandchildren could be invited to participate. Sometimes they get stuck in a rut as they visit and need something new and different to do with their loved one. Don’t hesitate to invite them to a cooking class, or a Bible study, or a trivia session, or a “Tell Your Story” activity on the calendar. Ask families if they would like to make a Storyboard about their loved one—this could be a project for the whole family to do together.

7. Keep the momentum going and make it fun! Ideas: Set a realistic and measurable goal to do one intergenerational activity every month. Set a goal to recruit three new youth volunteers. Find a school that will commit to visiting with older adults for 4-8 weeks (even if you need to take the elders to them—use your transportation if possible). Find church youth groups or other groups that are willing to come once a month. When they arrive, have a FUN and easy idea planned that will keep them coming back for more.

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