Community Roundtable, Part II: Bridging Generations of New Jerseyans for a More Equitable Recovery

To improve health for everyone, communities throughout New Jersey and the nation have prioritized building connections between seniors and youth. Recently, coalition partners from five communities that New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI) supports, Elizabeth, Freehold, Irvington, Lawnside and Lindenwold, sat down virtually with NJHI to share the intergenerational approaches they have implemented, their accomplishments, lessons learned and vision for this work. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living’s annual observance of Older Americans Month wraps up, we had the opportunity to chat about creating social connections, centering youth voices and sustaining this work with the following individuals who lead the work: Linda Brown, Neighborhood Connections to Health Executive Director; Alison Bryant, MEND Hunger Relief Network- Church Women United Pantry Director; Angelica Espinal-Garcia, Freehold Area Health Department Educator and Freehold Intergenerational Community Council Program Coordinator; Stephania Gonzalez-Mena, Elizabeth Next Generation Community Leaders Coach, Algiers Holmes, Lawnside Board of Health Secretary; Rev. Cynthia Jackson, Innovations Ministries Director at Generations, Inc.; Jonathan Phillips, Groundwork Elizabeth Executive Director; and Linda Sanders, Innovations Ministries Assistant Director at Generations, Inc.
This is the second installment of a three-part roundtable featuring the communities of Elizabeth, Freehold, Irvington, Lawnside and Lindenwold. View the first installment.

NJHI: Previously, we were learning about the ways that all of your communities are bringing seniors and youth together. What does this work look like in Freehold?

Angelica, Freehold: When focusing on multiple generations, we can meet youth and seniors where they are and create a safe space for them get to know each other. We can also provide support to help them agree on a common language so that everyone feels comfortable and sure that they won’t accidentally offend someone.

NJHI: Who are your community partners in this work to bridge the generations?
Algiers, Lawnside:
The Lawnside School District is partnering with us to identify students, particularly seventh graders, who might be interested in participating in our two-year program. Faith-based partners are working with our community-focused collaborative, as are the law enforcement personnel who are conducting wellness checks to help our youth participants connect with seniors who might be homebound.

Linda, Freehold:
There are many that have assisted and partnered in this work. The Freehold Borough School District provides support in promoting the council applications to students amid stay-at-home orders. In addition, we have a Freehold Borough teacher who serves as a faculty champion for the council. The Freehold Area Health Department, the YMCA, Freehold Borough municipal agencies, and community-based organizations Open Door, Casa Freehold and Downtown Freehold are among the partners that were integral to promoting the council application throughout 2020.

Cynthia, Lindenwold: We have partnered with the Girls Empowerment Ministry (GEM) youth mentorship program to identify youth who are interested in sending Letters of Love to our seniors. Our partners in distributing fresh produce and health information to seniors include Harvest House Senior Apartments, Lindenwold Towers and Linden Lake Apartments, Stellato Boys Produce, the Food Bank of South Jersey, Cooper Health System and the Bethany Baptist Church Transportation Department.

NJHI: What does it mean to you for communities to center the youth voice in this intergenerational work or other initiatives?

Stephania, Elizabeth: To me, it means that adults are actually listening to us and taking what we say into consideration. They’re not just listening for the sake of listening, but listening to incorporate our input into their programming. It also looks like giving us the ability to feel like we are the leaders in our own program, rather than being led by adults. For the Next Generation Community Leaders program, we had youth leaders like myself and my co-worker. I was 18 years old at the time and our youth leader was also really young. As we completed the program, one of the Next Generation Community Leaders began to serve in a leadership role for another initiative. Seeing younger people in leadership roles inspired her to become a community leader too. I feel that seeing us helped motivate her enough to participate more in community efforts.

Cynthia, Lindenwold: We would like to engage 11th graders from the Lindenwold School District as partners in distributing nutritious food to senior residents once this school year ends. When I asked the youth for their input, they recommended producing a video that could get the seniors excited about learning to use the apps on their phones and devices. The youth will take the lead on this project, including setting up a display so the seniors can watch the video when they come to pick up their produce. By partnering with the school district, the students will be eligible to receive community service hours for their work.

In the final installment of this conversation, these project directors and colleagues will highlight how their work has evolved because of their partnerships with senior residents and youth.

Captions, from top: Part of the 2018 flyer that the Elizabeth Next Generation Community Leaders distributed to engage seniors interested in participating in a home safety audit with the youth; Angelica Espinal-Garcia, Freehold Area Health Department Educator and Freehold Intergenerational Community Council Program Coordinator; the 2020 recruitment flyer that the Neighborhood Connections to Health coalition partners distributed to recruit residents for the Freehold Intergenerational Community Council. Stephania Gonzalez-Mena, Elizabeth Next Generation Community Leaders Coach; the full 2018 flyer from the Elizabeth Next Generation Community Leaders’ home safety program; Josh Morgan, a senior resident at Lindenwold Towers. All photos are courtesy of the grantee organizations.
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