What happens when people from different age groups come together to share stories, learn from each other, and participate in creative and educational endeavors?

This question is always forefront of our minds at DOROT, but especially now as we launch a new intergenerational program called GENuine Connections to coincide with National Intergeneration Month in September. When we intentionally unite people of different generations, we enrich their lives and create social connections that alleviate social isolation and loneliness.

Funded by a grant from the Eisner Foundation, GENuine Connections brings adults 65+ and teens together in small groups over Zoom. It is both an outgrowth of DOROT’s long-standing in-person intergenerational programs as well as a response to the pandemic’s need for virtual programming.

Take a look at this new video to see firsthand the impact of intergenerational programming on recent participants.

Intergen pair Marilyn Warner and Nathaniel Tanenbaum met at the height of the pandemic over Zoom and quickly discovered that despite the difference in their ages, they share so much in common – everything from travel to history to theater and film. The two bonded over surprisingly similar interests – comparing the original “West Side Story” to the latest film adaptation and discussing how “Hamilton” is as educational as it is entertaining and so much more. But the most important thing to come out of their connection was their willingness to continue this friendship even though their program ended. They have weekly calls which are continuing while Nathaniel is in college this fall in Scotland.

And not only that, they shared the story of their friendship on The Kelly Clarkson Show earlier this month before a national television audience. Intergenerational connection is finding its way into the mainstream as an effective strategy to address social isolation and loneliness, a pressing public health issue that is at the core of DOROT’s work.

Selma Margulies and Eloise Gordon also met over Zoom through DOROT’s Summer Teen Internship program. Eloise, 15, found Selma more similar to her than most people she’s met; outside of Eloise’s family, Selma knows her best. Beyond discovering they’re not that different, they also established a mutual level of respect for each other.

Intergenerational engagement is a core competency at DOROT and a key strategy to alleviate social isolation and loneliness. Our extensive training prepares older adults and youth volunteers for successful connection and friendship. We create an environment that fosters success, with training that sets expectations, explores what makes for good companionship and relationships, creates communal agreements, and offers strategies for growing community with kindness. Without proper preparation, these interactions can be empty and often disappointing.

When we break down stereotypes people believe exist between the generations, they discover commonalities that often lead to valuable insight and connection. Ageism can give way to a less fractured society where people of all ages can engage with one another in a meaningful way. Older adults can provide younger people with a perspective that might be quite different from their own – or surprisingly very similar. When people can share their lives with each other, they quickly come to recognize that their humanity is a powerful bond, no matter what their age or life experience. Personal connections provide purpose and meaning and help reduce feelings of social isolation and depression.

These mutually beneficial friendships provide gifts for all involved parties. Younger people can look forward to their lives and older adults experience a sense of hope for the future. Intergenerational connections can be powerful and life-changing.

Click here for more information about DOROT’s work to alleviate social isolation and loneliness and here for information on our intergenerational programs.