Andrea’s Opening Remarks at the Massachusetts Intergenerational Strategies Summit

On February 4, 2016, Bridges Together hosted a Statewide Intergenerational Strategies Summit at The Grange in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Below are the opening remarks of Founder and Executive Director Andrea J. Fonte Weaver:

Welcome! I am so grateful and excited that you have chosen to join me this morning to dream big and to begin putting together a plan on how we can continue to advance intergenerational initiatives in this state – efforts that lead to uniting older adults and young people to benefit participants, their families, sponsoring organizations and the larger community.

Community begins when individuals come together to share. In this spirit, let us create community.

In 1990, I was studying gerontology and sociology when I did an internship looking at programs for older adults from the national level down to 21 Metrowest communities. I discovered intergenerational programming and decided to pursue that field as it combined my lifelong love of both elders and children. I had the great fortune to be advised by Mr. Fran Pratt who founded the Massachusetts Intergenerational Network (aka MIN), a professional membership organization dedicated to this important work, later in life. He was also authored a curriculum for children on aging. Fran was so humble – it would be decades before I realized how foundational his work was across the state. Fran was one of a handful who helped found this field of intergenerational programming, a recognized national leader. Colleagues: We are so privileged that we come from such great roots in this state and that we have had access to wonderful mentors and sponsors.

I piloted my first intergenerational programs in 1991 including what is now known as Bridges: Growing Together, a program curriculum for children and active older adults to share and learn together. During the 1990s, I was designing, implementing and evaluating a wide variety of intergenerational programs throughout Massachusetts and was actively involved in MIN – a wonderful group of committed, like-minded professionals. In 2000, I trained local community leaders to run Bridges and took a sabbatical from the field in order to focus on my growing family. I now have four sons who range from 8th grade into college. At the time, MIN was housed at the Executive Office of Elder Affairs under the care of Sheila Donahue King.

In 2010, my husband and I moved back to Sudbury where Bridges had run continuously. People began asking me to spread Bridges. Others offered to help spread the program and several women asked me to create employment opportunities in the field. After much contemplation and prayer, I founded Bridges Together as a not-for-profit, charitable organization dedicated to intergenerational programming. Our focus would be on training professionals to implement locally. But, I also hoped that we would be able to connect like-minded professionals, as MIN once had, since MIN was now defunct.

That was 2012. And that spring, I attended the American Society on Aging Leadership Institute. I was overwhelmed with the societal changes that were occurring. As you may have heard, 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day. By 2025, people over the age of 65 will outnumber youth under 13. Those are surprising demographics. Today’s children will grow up and work with or for older adults, both personally and professionally. But, how are we preparing children. At a time when we need to be cultivating friendships among generations, our communities have become more age-segregated. Changes in families, housing, economics, technology and even our fears have diminished the quantity and quality of intergenerational relationships. What used to happen naturally to benefit each individual and community is no longer commonplace – and we all suffer.

You and I know the power of uniting generations. As Generations United says, “Because we are stronger together.”At Bridges Together, we say “Intergenerational programs are a vaccination against ageism and prescription for longevity.” And we have asked you to share your thoughts on the many benefits of these programs.

So – Bridges Together was founded. Over the past almost four years, we have met so many of you and seen the great work that you are doing. We have partnered with the MCOA (Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging) to provide professional development across the state. Our first workshops were entitled “Nice And Necessary.” Last year, we heard about more than 100 communities in Massachusetts that were offering some type of programs to unite the generations and we’ve documented those in a database. More than 500 people attended our professional development events last year – and each person was at a different stage in her or his intergenerational journey! How do we unify this energy to create lasting change and how do we support people who want to initiate or expand their efforts? Through MCOA, we are providing a wide-variety of opportunities including:

At the MCOA conference this past fall, I asked Secretary Bonner of Elder Affairs to help form a commission on intergenerational programming. She told me it would slow us down and to send her a bulleted list of things she can be doing to promote our cause. I have some ideas but I knew YOU would have many more. I also know that many other initiatives have grown into accepted solutions woven into the fabric of our lives – from vaccinations before entering school to anti-bullying education to SHINE health information programs and A Matter of Balance fall prevention programs.

So today, we join together to wrestle with two questions –

  • What can we learn from other initiatives that have created systemic change?
  • What can the Secretary do to promote intergenerational programs at the State level?

 

 

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