Intergenerational Month: A Conversation with Andrea

Have you heard? September is Intergenerational Month! Bridges Together is thrilled to be continuing the work of the organization Intergeneration Month. (Click here to read our post originally announcing this “passing of the torch.”)Sandy Kraemer, the founder of Intergeneration Month (an outgrowth of his Intergeneration Foundation), has been working with Kirk Woundy, a trustee of Intergeneration Foundation and founder of Time Capsule Memoirs, to create a book about his work.

Below is the transcript Kirk’s interview with Andrea about the organization Intergeneration Month’s “handoff” of IG Month celebrations to Bridges Together.

A glimpse of the future

Thoughts from Andrea J. Fonte Weaver of Bridges Together Inc.

 Andrea J. Fonte Weaver had been designing, implementing and evaluating programs for more than 20 years when she founded Bridges Together as a tax-exempt charitable organization in 2012. Its mission is lofty — “to empower leaders to connect generations, thereby transforming lives for today and tomorrow” — but its approach is grounded in the practical. Bridges Together engages in intergenerational advocacy; distributes a curricula suite for K-12 schools; and provides custom training to help others design intergenerational programs in their communities.

 The Intergeneration Foundation’s partnership with Bridges Together entails more than just a handoff of Intergeneration Month responsibilities. Bridges Together now manages the foundation’s annual storytelling contest, and handles all associated website and social media tasks.

Plans for the future will surely evolve over coming months and years. But as of July 2017, this is what Andrea had to say about the new partnership, as well as about intergenerational issues at large.

Had you talked with Sandy at all before he started reaching out to you in December?

BT Board Member Michele Fisher, Andrea J. Fonte Weaver, Sandy F. Kraemer, former IG Month Board Member Dorothy Kraemer

No. But Cyd [Campbell] of Sandy’s organization and Amy [Wilson Sheldon], BT’s Communications Director, had talked. I had known about the work of Intergeneration Month, but I actually didn’t have any staff until a year and a half ago.

Around the same time, I approached the Secretary of Elder Affairs in Massachusetts and asked her to put together a commission — which in Massachusetts is a legislative-mandated body — that would “look into intergenerational programs and endorse them.” She thought it would slow me down and instead asked me to send her some bullet points of what she could do at the state level to help spread intergenerational programs. We convened leaders from across the state, and together we came up with three bullet points for her. One of them was to recognize Intergenerational Awareness Month in September.

 Last spring, we reconvened that group and launched Intergenerational Awareness Month in Massachusetts in 2016, citing your work. We put out a bunch of How-To Guides for people to use during the month — for example, how to do an outdoor activity, collaborate with Scouts, celebrate Grandparents/Grandfriends Day. We had about a dozen communities participate in the month, and we did have a proclamation from the governor here in Massachusetts.

 Was there any hesitation in regard to agreeing to take over the IG Month concept?

 No. Any hesitation we had was to make sure that we could do the month justice — to continue and, hopefully, grow the great work that you had been doing. In the end, we were confident that we will be able to do so.

I know it’s early, but when you look ahead, what does that look like to you?

We’re hoping to spread the message about Intergenerational Month to a lot more organizations and people. We’ve actually reached out a couple of times to a local TV station to cover the month. There’s a cable TV show that’s looking at doing a whole segment on Intergenerational Month now. We’re hoping to increase the number of places that host an event during the month.

As far as the storytelling contest, we’d like to see more entries, as it is a way to elevate the cause and raise awareness. For example, the Bridges program is in about 30 school communities across the country, so we’d love to really reach out to those teachers and volunteers and have them participate in the storytelling contest.

We’re looking at possibly including videos, where people could record their story or perhaps a song about an intergenerational relationship. What if someone was able to upload a photograph, perhaps of a piece of artwork that tells an intergenerational story? While I personally love words and telling stories through writing, I appreciate that’s not always everybody’s forte. So if there were a way that we could expand it to be inclusive of other arts and other ways to tell stories … not this year, but it is percolating in my brain.

 If you could exert some kind of control over the way intergenerational connections are elevated, what would you like to see more of?

We just updated our vision statement as an organization to proclaim: “Every child and older adult will experience the richness of intergenerational relationships and interdependence.” That would be lovely, if everybody had that in their lives, wouldn’t it? “Lovely,” no pun intended.

But one of the things I’m really hoping is that our educational system will embrace a longevity competency, so just like they teach math and nutrition across K-12, they would teach longevity. Aging is a lifelong process 

Today’s students can expect to live 70 more years. What does that look like? I think that intergenerational programs have to be part of the way that we impart that vision and knowledge.These students are going to grow up working with and for older adults in their own personal lives and in the workplace. They need to be prepared. There’s no question about whether or not it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. And in general, they’re not prepared. Very few people are talking about this issue and what is coming down the road. 

So if I look ahead, in my dream, it’s that every school system in this country would have really meaningful intergenerational programs and initiatives going on. And that we would just weave the intergenerational relationships back into the fabric of our lives and communities, the way it was two and three generations ago.

And to do it, at least in the beginning, through education.

I think you have to, because if we look at the way we’ve helped diminish racism — I can’t say eradicate, but diminish racism — it’s been through the school systems, through integration and through education. If we think about the way that we’ve increased the number of people who are vaccinated, it’s because vaccinations become mandatory to enter into specific grades in the schools. So our children are growing up vaccinated and protected.

I remember when the chicken pox vaccination came out, a pediatrician told me, “It’s not a problem if a child gets chicken pox; it’s really a problem if an adult gets it. So if we vaccinate children, then they’re going to grow up and not get chicken pox. There’s no way to make vaccinations mandatory for adults.”

So I think we have to work through the schools to offer intergenerational programs, because it’s the only way to make it mandatory for all children to spend time with older adults. When we make it optional, like an after-school program, kids don’t sign up. Because who wants to spend time with “old people” when they could be building rockets or baking cupcakes? 

Until they actually do it and realize —

— it’s really cool. And then it’s not a problem. But that first run is tough.

One of the slogans, or one of the statements, we use at Bridges Together is, “Intergenerational programs are a vaccination against ageism and a prescription for longevity.”

Is there anything that hasn’t come up yet that you would like to say about the transfer of IG Month, or anything about the Intergeneration Foundation?

I’m just really excited and honored. I know how hard Sandy has worked, and how much work Cyd’s done. I so appreciate all that Sandy’s done and his vision and his dedication for decades. And I’m just honored that they chose me, and Bridges Together, to carry on that work. 

 

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