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Intergenerational Interaction: How We Can Learn from One Another

Since March, 2020, the world has come to know a new way of life. We have been increasingly more isolated, cautious, lonely, and in some cases, even depressed. Human interaction, it seems, is a necessity for most of us to maintain a healthy and functional lifestyle. I offer these observations as a 30-something who, like many, has never experienced anything of this sort. But what if there were people in your life who had lived through myriad crises over a stretch of several generations?

Most people of our grandparent’s generation have the ability to share their experiences with things like, the attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Great Depression, the Kennedy assassination–the list goes on. Our world is not a stranger to times of strife and our older counterparts are living proof that the human spirit is a resilient warrior.

But it’s not just advice on weathering the difficult times that we can gain from an older generation, there are wonderful stories too–stories of building families, careers, taking adventures, witnessing new inventions. I constantly see memes or hear quotes that are authored by people my age, or younger, making assertions about life in the most absolute terms. And while I wholeheartedly believe in expressing one’s opinion at any age, I often think “we haven’t even seen the half of it!”–hopefully. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll always choose to get my advice on “HOW TO BAKE THE WORLD’S BEST CARROT CAKE” from someone who's been baking it for 50+ years.

About 8 years ago, my cousin, my grandmother, and I started a tradition that we affectionately dubbed “Tuesday Club”. Through moves, vacations, and the pandemic, we have done our best to get together every Tuesday for lunch. We share stories, and delicious food, sometimes we play games, or decorate for the holidays. But whatever we do, they have come to be some of the most cherished moments in all three of our lives.

My grandmother recently turned 96! She’s sharp as a tack, and a real firecracker. She tells us about her travels, and time growing up in Peru, what it was like to date in the 50’s when she and my grandfather began “courting” (her words of course!). We teach her how to use the guide on the TV instead of reading the pamphlet every week. We tell her about contemporary dating–she’s fascinated by the app concept–and our own adventures. We all listen to one another intently and with genuine interest. I can’t think of a more symbiotic relationship, or one that brings more joy.

“Grams”, as we lovingly call her, moved to a local senior retirement center a few years ago. She was sad to give up her home, but I love that she has more community around her. My cousin and I have had the privilege of meeting many of her new friends, and sharing in their stories as well. Most recently, she invited a woman to lunch who is a big hiker–something she and I share in common. We could have prattled on through laughter for hours exchanging stories!

It’s unfortunate that it’s not always the case in American culture to revere our elders as they deserve. There is so much to be learned and shared that can help us grow on our journey. Being witness to Grams’ continued growth in her 90’s is beyond inspiring. She never ceases to surprise us with her opinions and beautiful thoughts. As the matriarch of our family, she has exhibited unfailing kindness my whole life, and as such, has been my example for how to treat others.

Hattie Shapard was inspired by her own relationship with a woman of an older generation and started the Amity Program in February 2020. When one experiences the friendship and love that can blossom from sharing time with a person born in another era, it becomes apparent how important it is to cultivate and grow these relationships. That’s exactly what Hattie did by creating a program to encourage us “youngsters” to pull our heads out of our iPhones, and take the time to learn from those in front of us.

The Amity Program fosters these connections by offering several different platforms to promote intergenerational interaction. Hattie began Amity’s journey with the pen-pal program–a way to connect students and senior citizens, and reduce feelings of isolation, but also to simply help build new friendships. As the pen-pal program grew, phone calls came to be included, as well as the Art Box program.

The Art Box initiative is geared toward individuals who are dealing with dementia. A kit of free art supplies is delivered to participants to encourage creativity and offer the opportunity to work on an ongoing project. As Amity continued to evolve, schools began to reach out with an interest in getting students involved on a larger scale, and so, the card-making initiative began. This newest offering, allows students to make and send cards to isolated individuals.

Even in these unusual times, most people my age still find ways of interacting with family and friends. Sadly, this isn’t always the case for our veterans of long lives. It’s important that we embrace these moments together any way we can. Spread your youthful exuberance, no matter what the birthdate on your driver’s license says! Bask in one another’s triumphs and failures. Offer advice and support. Receive advice and support.

Remember that they were once your age, and - with any luck in my case - you will be theirs one day. Hold on to your daily moments with the prospect that one day, while looking back, your stories will fall upon eager and enraptured ears.


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