Successful Aging: Searching for ideas to bring generations together and improve the future
Occasionally I attend or participate in an event that I think will be of interest to you. A recent event was the 2018 Encore Summit, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Encore.org, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, founded by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman.
Their work has been animated by a single question: How can society tap the talent, skills and experience of our older population to solve significant social problems and that will make life better for future generations, as well as improve the lives of older people?
Held at the California Endowment in Los Angeles it was attended by over 200 Encore leaders representing organizations such as Bridges Together, Encore Tampa Bay, Experience Matters, Encore Fellows UK and more. All of the organizations and their leaders share the common encore philosophy that older adults are a valuable resource that can help solve many of our nation’s complex social problems.
The moment of this celebration is timely. For the first time in our nation’s history we have more people over 60 than under 18. Encore sees this as an opportunity to be seized as well as problem to be solved.
Encore.org presents an award, the Gen2Gen Encore Prize to innovators at any age who are finding new ways to tap the talents of people 50+ to help young people thrive.
Here are just two of the compelling stories of Gen2Gen prize winners who are bringing generations together.
Angela Carron, M.D, Executive Director of Fostering Hope has extensive experience as a child-abuse pediatrician. She recognized a gap between what is known about healing from trauma and the actual experience of children in foster care.
Dr. Carron filled part of that gap by recruiting grandmothers to foster infants who were child-abuse victims. These grandmothers held and rocked the infants every day for hours – for three consecutive months. The grandmothers became Encore volunteers.
The results have been stunning. The adoption rate for the infants is three time the national average. Additionally these children have higher graduation rates and dramatically lower rates of homeless after aging out of foster care. Fostering Hope won the Judge’s prize of $50,000.
Finalist Brittany Koteles is the national organizer of Nuns & Nones, a national network and grass roots movement of women religious and socially conscious millennials, who learn from one another, share the Sister’s wisdom, steward their sacred spaces and work for justice in an ever-more fractured world.
It’s a program between two highly unlikely groups, turning convents into social training grounds for the next generation.
Koteles says, “Nuns show up where love is needed.”
Note that 40 percent of millennials check “none” on the census box for religion. One pilot project consists of five millennials who have moved into a convent with sisters in Burlingame, CA. The average age of the nuns is 78 years. Koteles says, “Something new is being created.” Nuns and Nones was awarded $10,000.
Intergenerational connections make sense and are natural. According to a UCLA study, the two loneliest groups in our country are younger people and older people. Moreover, there is evidence that older people who connect with younger people are three times happier than those who don’t.
“Every child needs an adult who is crazy about them,” said Freedman. “Yet we still live in an age-segregated environment, an age apartheid” he added. Just look at housing, education and more. We persist with this segregation knowing it is the root of isolation and loneliness.
A final part to this summit was the introduction of Marc Freedman’s hot-off-the-press book, “How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, (PublicAffairs, 2018).” No, this is not a 12-step program of what you must do live forever. Rather it addresses how to build bridges across the generational divide.
In a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (November 1, 2018), Freedman notes that the solutions are “right in front of us.” For all the handwringing about the graying of America, the needs and assets of the generation fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Just ask any grandparent.”
Some may ask, “Why this effort? The anonymous Greek proverb says it all. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” The Summit was as vivid reminder and affirmation that many are doing great things — for all generations, for the good of our society and for all the right reasons.