This fall, Encore.org announced 21 new Encore Public Voices Fellows, a joint effort with the Op-Ed Project and Encore.org Senior Advisor Ann MacDougall.
The fellowship program is designed to fill a need arising from increasing longevity—and the inequalities embedded in longer lives. Marci Alboher, Encore.org’s vice president of strategic communications writes that “we need better and faster ideas from a more diverse set of people of all ages, especially those who are most affected by the uneven implications of these realities and most likely to see new solutions and envision a more just future.”
Stria published perspective from several of the 2018 Encore Public Voices Fellows, including Ryan Frederick on how to bring purpose into senior living communities, Odile Robotti on why corporate policies should support retirement planning, Michael Smyer on older adults as a potential resource for climate action, and more.
This year, we’re introducing the new class of fellows by asking them the share a snapshot of their vision for change when it comes to our aging society. We’ll publish their responses in three parts. Read part one and part two now.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the United States. But the people discussing and providing solutions about aging are predominantly folks who are older themselves. Their engagement is crucial and also a missed opportunity for the middle-aged and younger generations that will be having these same conversations down the line. Aging is a great equalizer—it happens to all of us—and so the issues of our aging society will eventually require all of our attention. The sooner my generation, millennials, and the folks that come after us can be involved in these conversations, listen and learn, the sooner we can become involved in the solutions and the greater our collective impact can be.
As we all get older, we all have stories to tell—stories of love and loss, hope and heartbreak, mischief and misadventure. There is richness in those stories – of time, of experience, and of connection. We need to better understand those stories to make a better world. And we need to tell new stories, lifting the voices that have too often gone unheard, and helping people to share power through relationships.
I’m excited to build on my experience at The Cares Family in bringing older and younger people together to build relationships and reduce loneliness across social, generational and attitudinal divides. And I’m excited to help more people share time, laughter and new experiences with others from different backgrounds and age groups; to help systems change to enable, rather than suppress, those relationships; and ultimately to help make our cultures a little kinder and more connected.
Strong intergenerational connections, especially between our youngest and oldest populations, can address many of society’s biggest challenges and enhance the unique culture and values of our communities. When I was just a junior in high school, I began volunteering at a skilled nursing facility. Every week, I led intense games of Bingo, ran cooking demonstrations, and aided in the transport of 30-40 of my new family members. This experience really changed my perspective on what “work” could be, and it served as a reminder of the special connection that I had with my own grandparents. Five years later, I was leading the activities department of a senior living facility, a role that allowed me to create innovative programs for our residents and their families. Above all else, the interactions between our residents and youth were both the most fun and the most inspiring for both groups. Despite the growing research around the benefits of intergenerational relationships, there are so many more opportunities in the community—especially in education, parks and recreation, housing, faith-based groups, and policy—to incorporate high quality intergenerational programming, and I’m excited to use my voice to support this movement.
As political, economic and cultural influences attempt to divide the generations, we must stand together to create interdependency rather than isolation. When we isolate the generations, we lose a powerful safety net and shared voice to strengthen one another and our communities.
Additionally, segregating the generations can fuel social isolation, leading to damaging health and community outcomes for all of us, no matter our age. On an individual level, social isolation negatively impacts our heart health and increases the incidences of loneliness and depression. On a greater community health level, social isolation risks the loss of the learnings, wisdom and experience of all ages.
We need to identify powerful strategies for increasing connection, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging.
Intentionally knitting generations together, as many cultures and families do around the world, creates a powerful safety net for all ages. Children have many people caring about them, parents have support, and elders live with meaning and purpose leaning in to love, guide, and comfort. As a clinical psychologist, intergenerational champion, granddaughter, daughter and mother, my professional and personal experience lends a strong voice to the call for intergenerational safety nets that benefit all generations.
Significant numbers of men of color are retiring, many earlier than desirable, with few tangible plans for their future. Even worse, having felt marginalized in the workplace and in society in general, they now enter the final phase of life with minimal hope and little aspiration. My voice will help encourage this growing population of adults on the valuable contribution that they can yet make to society by sharing their life and work experiences with our youth. Based on my recent experience as a four-year retiree, we can help these individuals understand the rewards and personal satisfaction that comes from working across generational lines. My experiences from working to ensure that socially disadvantaged families have access to opportunities and services enjoyed by the more affluent residents in society gives credibility to my voice. I will help amplify the need, provide a call to action, and help build a plan of action with emphasis on engaging the growing population of baby boomers (my colleagues/cohorts) to help do this work. I am anxious to lend my voice to working with policy makers and community-based organizations that connect seniors with underrepresented youth and families where mentoring, education and meaningful relationships can be developed and sustained over time.
We are living in a time now where entrepreneurship and DIY innovation is leading the way we shape and see the world of business and technology. We currently have this mindset that this is a lane for only the young and able-bodied, and that innovation can only come from those institutionally trained in developing new ideas. We’ve aged people out of this movement when we should be looking at ways to be more inclusive and looking to the older adult population for their experiences and values that contribute to today’s innovation. That’s what my research has been focused on for almost a decade and I want to put this in front of the people that can help us bring equity to the technology world. I want to share stories and insights of the forgotten middle, those who may experience ageism, racism, and classism in the ways they interact with technology and the rest of the world. My voice serves as a platform to advocate for ways where we can center and amplify the voices and needs of marginalized older adults.
Our perceptions of—and the stories we tell about—older people and aging in our society need to shift. As an author of primarily children’s books, intergenerational connection is a key theme in my work. It often feels to me that, today, people are floating, disconnected through their lives. Older people are fearful of younger people. Younger people disregard elders. But these two groups actually have a lot in common, and a lot to offer one another. Both older adults and children are often depicted in the context of specific issues or roles that do not allow for the full expression of their humanity. In my work, I try to identify and celebrate the complex humanity of older people and children, as well as the many types of knowledge they can impart to one another, and the ways they can work together to achieve common goals—such as resolving problems, improving communities, and even solving a mystery or two. In my book, The Harlem Charade, for example, kids and elders in Harlem work together to solve a mystery about the neighborhood’s past to preserve its future. I see relationships between older and younger people as vital to weaving together and healing the disparate parts of our communities, creating a sense of connection and belonging that allows us to discover who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.