By Judy Reiss
I have been so excited to share with you this terrific idea that was shared with me by a old friend. Actually she called me the other day to send her good wishes and encourage me to try and get back to my “old self”! And while we were talking, we began to talk about how important grandparents are to our young people, especially these days. Now, before I tell you about the program she told me about, I want to tell you quickly what I think.
I firmly believe that the children who have grandparents in their lives are way ahead. Grandparents have a completely different role in the life of a child and it is amazingly important. I know that I was extremely lucky to have both sets of grandparents for most of my childhood and due to illness, lived with my Grandma for almost a year. And those are such wonderful memories for me! I have the most wonderful memories of being very close to my two oldest grandsons and we still are! I hear from Mac who is on a ship in the Caribbean as part of his freshman year at Mass Maritime. And nothing cheers me up more than when he either calls or sends me text messages! And SeaBass? Well, he lives with us every other week when his mother has to work. I consider myself the luckiest old woman in the world! Although I don’t see the others as much as Mac and SeaBass. I do speak to them weekly and try to let them know how much I love them and am interested in their lives. Grandparents and their young grandchildren can form a bond that is amazingly strong and important. And what about the children who don’t have grandparents in their lives? They miss a relationship that needs to be replaced, somehow!
It isn’t impossible to forge a relationship for those children and probably it should be encouraged by parents or other family members. Think about it. Somewhere close to you, or maybe it is you, there is an older man or woman who would love to be included in the life of some young girl or boy. And this will give both participants in that relationship a tremendously important opportunity to learn about another generation. Both older and younger. And now on to my friend’s shared opportunity.
In Massachusetts, there is a group called Sages and Seekers and this intergenerational program is designed to bring together teens and seniors to share their unique gifts. And if you really think about it, the elders have a vital role. They are the keepers of the memories and the wisdom. The sages have to offer the maturity and experience allows for a larger perspective of life and allows the younger generation the opportunity to learn. The goal of this program is to pair a senior with a sophomore from the local high school and for an hour a week, to share their life experiences. Both senior and sophomore participate.
There is no pressure for either participant. All that needs to be done is share who you are and the “seeker” will find that in their fast-paced lives of texting, tweeting, and technology, they are relieved to have 60 minutes to have a real conversation with someone who has had a much different growing up experience.
On the seventh week, there is a celebration. The seekers have written an essay about their sage and will read the essays that they have written. And of course, guests are encouraged to come. And other than the essay, what do you think that the seekers and the sages got from this program? Well, in the area where this is a required program for each and every sophomore, it is a tremendous success! The young people have the opportunity to ask questions and share with their sage. And the sages are able to listen and understand, perhaps for the first time, what their seekers life is like and how they might be able to be an important advocate for them.
Now I think that this idea and this program is an amazing opportunity. For the young person who has no grandparents close enough to be part of his or her life, it is a chance to talk to an elder and learn and understand their life experiences and share it! Think about it, most of today’s young people weren’t alive when things that us old folks consider part of our lives and I’m not sure that many young people actually believe much of it ever really happened! Being able to hear and share things that were actually part of their sage’s life is an amazing opportunity. When I was a little girl, the most wonderful thing that both my grandmothers did for me, was tell me stories about when they were little! Lying in their bed and listening to those stories is still a fantastic memory for me. But if you never had that opportunity sages and seekers will be the chance to relive another era that you really know nothing about!
I guess that you can adjust your program to when, where and for how many weeks, but I think that six weeks is a good number and then using the seventh week as a real celebration is a super idea. And that the seeker has to write a short essay about their sage and is a great way to rethink about what you both learned about the other and how it really affected their life.
If you need any more information, you can always contact me. But I actually think that if you want to start an intergenerational program like that, you can probably adapt it to your community and what your goals will be. Before you just read this and then throw the paper away, think about the young people in your community and how such a program would affect the lonely elders in your neighborhood and how a program like this would enrich their lives. And of course, if you watch the young people, shuffling alone with their huge back packs as they text frantically as they wait for their bus or walk home, this would actually be an opportunity for them to learn, first hand, about World War II, the Beatles, and how to dance while actually touching! Just think about it and how an hour a week for seven weeks could make a real change in the life of a young person. And a senior citizen, too!