Intergenerational programs have become widely implemented and praised for their positive impact on older generations. But there is growing evidence that children, and the broader community as a whole, are benefiting just as much. Research out of Stanford University emphasizes that older adults are exceptionally suited to meet many needs of youth because of their life experiences, helping children build strong emotional skills and contribute meaningfully to society. In return, older adults can benefit from meaningful engagement, the opportunity to learn about new trends and technology, and the excitement of seeing the world through a younger perspective.

Four years ago Julie Shlensky joined Ovation Communities as the organization’s first intergenerational program coordinator. In that short time, the program has grown and flourished. Last year alone the initiative engaged 2,551 participants, executed 109 programs, and partnered with 24 schools and community organizations. Classes and partnerships are implemented across Ovation’s three locations and at the Adult Day Center.

The benefits of intergenerational programming at Ovation have been vast. The initiative provides opportunities for residents, Day Center participants and students to increase self-esteem, decrease isolation and loneliness, experience a meaningful sense of purpose, learn new things, increase socialization skills and better understand differences in others.

“We’ve worked hard to develop a program that fosters meaningful and long-lasting relationships,” said Shlensky. “Our partnerships and programs recur on a regular basis so there is a real opportunity to build lasting bonds.”

The variety of programming is impressive, from art to reading to dance. The Read to Me program brings kids from local schools to Ovation twice a month to read with residents and engage in hands-on activities. Students have the opportunity to practice their reading aloud, and are encouraged to really get to know their reading partner. Residents have shared how positive they feel about being able to help a child who may be struggling with reading, a fundamental and important life skill.

A recent program participant from Milwaukee Public Schools said, “I feel like I have a grandma. My grandma passed away before I was born. Now I have someone I can talk to and share my problems with. It’s really nice.”

Additional programs include Teaching Life Skills Through Movement where participants focus on movement as a way to express things without using words, and the Intergenerational Multi-Arts program with Danceworks that includes collaborative dance and art projects engaging many schools and sites beyond Ovation.

“Connecting more deeply with the community is an important part of our mission,” said Shlensky. “Often from far sides of the spectrum, people of all ages and backgrounds are coming together, learning about different cultures and ways of expression. I find myself watching the programs and thinking this is just amazing, it takes my breath away.”

The intergenerational programming department is always looking for new ideas and partners. Please contact Julie Shlensky at jshlensky@ovation.org or 414-721-9253.