How to Share Campus Space for the Good of Young and Old

CFAR | July 30, 2018 | by Geralyn Magan

Dr. Taryn Patterson, a research associate with the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, thinks LeadingAge members have the potential to bring intergenerational programming to scale nationwide. A new report from Generations United suggests that some members are already working toward that goal.

“Intergenerational shared site” may not be a term most Americans understand well, but it represents a “concept whose time is now,” according to a new report from Generations United (GU) and the Eisner Foundation.

Several LeadingAge members, featured in the new report, have obviously gotten that message.

All in Together: Creating Places Where Young and Old Thrive features several examples of how LeadingAge member organizations are sharing campus space with the younger generation. For example:

  • NewBridge on the Charles, a residential community operated by Hebrew SeniorLife in Dedham, MA, shares its 162-acre campus with a private school for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The shared-site program includes intergenerational activities at all grade levels. About 10 older adults regularly help out in classrooms.
  • Judson Manor and Judson Park, two Cleveland-based retirement communities, offer a limited number of apartments to university and college students attending Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music.
  • Kendal at Oberlin houses the Kendal Early Learning Center on its campus, and gives free room and board to local college students who work at Kendal.
  • Lasell Village, a life plan community in Newton, MA, is located on the campus of Lasell College. Students and residents interact regularly through shared courses, class modules, research projects, internships, and mentoring programs.
  • The New Jewish Home in New York City invites at-risk youth interested in health care careers to become fully immersed in its care setting through a Geriatric Career Development Program.

The GU/Eisner Foundation report comes only months after the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and GU released findings from a year-long study on the nature and extent of intergenerational programming in senior housing. Findings from that study, funded by The Retirement Research Foundation, are featured in Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing: From Promise to Practice, which was released earlier this year.

“We were interested in exploring long-term intergenerational programming that fosters intentional relationship-building between young and old,” says Dr. Taryn Patterson, an LTSS Center research associate and co-author of the GU/LTSS Center report. “The shared-site concept featured in the GU/Eisner Foundation report focuses on leveraging a particular space for a multigenerational purpose. But it’s important to note that many shared-site arrangements also include intentional intergenerational programming.”

Growing Popularity of Intergenerational Shared Sites

The GU/Eisner Foundation report describes “a convergence of opportunity” that has moved the shared-site concept onto the radar screens of consumers, service providers, and municipalities.

“The demand for quality children and youth services, compounded with the increasing need for creative older adult programs, creates an environment ripe for innovative age-integrated care,” write the authors. “Additionally, many communities face limited local, state, and national resources for construction and rehabilitation of facilities. The use of space by multiple generations makes common sense.”

The shared site concept has plenty of support among consumers, according to a 2018 Harris Poll commissioned by GU and Eisner. For example:

  • 92% of Americans believe intergenerational activities can help reduce loneliness across all ages.
  • 94% agree that older people have skills or talents that can help address a child’s/youth’s needs, and 89% percent believe the same about children and youth addressing the needs of elders.
  • 85% said that they or a loved one would prefer a care setting with opportunities for intergenerational contact, rather than one with a single age group.

Aging Services Providers as Site Sharers

The GU/Eisner Foundation study identified 105 intergenerational shared sites that already exist in the United States. The authors say that number could grow significantly if the nation’s 67,000 adult day services sites, nursing homes, assisted living, and residential care communities decided to share.

Providing campus space to fill a community need is a great way for LeadingAge members to fulfill their not-for-profit responsibility for social accountability, says Patterson. For example, a life plan or assisted living community could:

  • Share its dining room and kitchen with local programs that offer summer lunch programs for children or offer intergenerational cooking and nutrition classes.
  • Host a child daycare center that could serve employees and engage residents while offering needed services to parents in the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Give local children an opportunity to use campus facilities, such as a pool, gymnasium, or theater.
  • Let local organizations hold after-school programs in its common area.
  • Allow a portion of its outdoor space to be used for community gardening or youth recreation activities.

How to Begin?

Patterson recommends that LeadingAge members interested in sharing their space with the younger generation take 3 preliminary steps:

Assess your physical plant: Be creative in listing the spaces you could share with community partners. Patterson suggests consulting in advance with legal counsel to clarify and address any liability issues.

Consult with residents and clients: “Try taking a participatory approach to assessing whether space sharing is something that residents think is beneficial,” says Patterson. “Some residents may already be volunteering in the community, so they probably know about community needs and how they might help meet those needs. Getting residents involved early will increase buy-in later.”

Reach out to partners: Both the GU/Eisner and the GU/LTSS Center reports suggest that organizations interested in hosting intergenerational activities should reach out to a variety of community partners—including “unlikely” partners—to make those activities a reality. “It’s important to bring those parties together and brainstorm a way that the intergenerational program can actually benefit everyone,” says Patterson.

Making it Meaningful

The most meaningful site-sharing strategy will include a framework for building relationships between young and old through intentional intergenerational programming, says Patterson.

“You can’t assume that just having multiple generations in one setting will lead to high-quality interaction,” she says. “That interaction doesn’t always happen organically. In certain settings, intergenerational interaction needs a little help.”

Patterson, who is now working with GU on a new project to support the development and implementation of high-quality intergenerational programming in senior housing communities nationwide, is hopeful that LeadingAge members can help expand intergenerational programming in a variety of settings.

“LeadingAge members have the potential to provide thousands of intergenerational shared sites around the country,” says Patterson. “We have the potential to bring intergenerational programming to scale. That’s a pretty powerful potential.”