Community Roundtable, Part III: 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 final installment of a three-part roundtable featuring the communities of Elizabeth, Freehold, Irvington, Lawnside and Lindenwold. View the first installment. View the second installment.

NJHI: Tell us about the evolution of your intergenerational work. How has your coalition’s work evolved because of the partnership with senior and youth residents?

Linda, Freehold: There is an incredible level of ownership from the council participants. We believe this started with the Council Selection Committee choosing who would participate. This process differed from our original plans, which would have had our internal coalition selecting the council members. With coaching from Community Health Strategist Toni Lewis, we considered a model of empowerment and chose six members to become the selection committee.  The council selection committee members became the decision-makers and we saw them develop their own processes to ensure every member’s voice was heard and to retain any community members who they believed could contribute to the council’s work. This group also planned and facilitated the virtual kick-off in December 2020.

Jonathan, Elizabeth: In addition to City and County senior programs, the Elizabeth Housing Authority, Jewish Family Services and Groundwork Elizabeth envision a place for seniors and youth to continue working together. Groundwork Elizabeth is doing community gardening work with youth and seniors each year, the gardening is the gateway to building relationships. Youth are also working to influence policy in Elizabeth and developing public service announcements to educate their peers about the COVID-19 vaccines. Both of these efforts will also reach seniors and others in the community.

NJHI: What opportunities have you identified that could sustain this work over the long term? What closing thoughts would you like to share with other communities considering intergenerational work?

Stephania, Elizabeth: We found success with the youth team visiting one senior center for a week and building one-on-one connections with the residents. Some of the seniors brought their high school yearbooks to share memories with the youth. The youth then asked the seniors about their needs and goals, such as what technology they wanted to learn more about, which allowed us to tailor our programming to their needs for a personalized experience.

Alison, Irvington: We used a similar one-on-one approach in Irvington. We paired the youth and seniors so they learned together. It was never one group lecturing to the other.

Linda, Freehold: Through our partnership with the school district, our school superintendent is exploring options to incorporate the Freehold Intergenerational Community Council into the curriculum or as an extracurricular activity to sustain the initiative.

Cynthia, Lindenwold: This work is about the power of collaboration, and how we can share resources within our communities and as peers.

Jonathan, Elizabeth: We established a formal recruitment process to reach youth through the schools, affordable housing communities and professional and personal networks. In addition, the Next Generation Community Leaders interviewed their peers. If you’re going to work to build a thriving community, everybody’s voice must be heard. This includes the voices of youth, seniors, or people in between. We’ve got to create the conditions for that to happen.

Learn more about these New Jersey communities and their work:

  • The community of Elizabeth is a NJHI: Next Generation Community Leaders grantee.
  • Both Freehold and Irvington are NJHI: Communities Moving to Action grantees.
  • The Borough of Lawnside is a current NJHI grantee through the Small Communities Forging Hyperlocal Data Collaboratives initiative.
  • Generations Inc. in Lindenwold is one of five grantees that NJHI directly supports through the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network.
Captions, from top: The Freehold Intergenerational Community Council selection committee met virtually as part of its work; Jonathan Phillips, Groundwork Elizabeth Executive Director; City of Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and partnered with the Mayor’s Youth Council to produce a public service announcement to educate the community about the COVID-19 vaccines; a 2017 photo of Irvington youth and seniors participating in meet-and-greet table talks at the Irvington Senior Center. All photos are courtesy of the grantee organizations.
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