New Jersey Health Initiatives - A Better State of Health
A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
Elizabeth Next Gen Intergenerational Program Helps Improve Community Health and Reduces Senior and Youth Loneliness

Our Elizabeth team’s job was to work together to design and implement a four-week summer program focused on community health. After much research and discussion, we decided to work on how to keep seniors safe and healthy where they lived by conducting home audits to make sure their homes are physically safe and their kitchens stocked with food. What we didn’t expect was how much of a difference we would make in their lives and them in ours.

Throughout our four-week program, we rotated our headquarters among four different senior centers, visited four senior housing communities, conducted interviews, and then divided into three teams. Each team then arranged to visit the seniors in their homes.

It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be to enter their homes. We had to build relationships so the seniors trusted us and would invite us inside.

When each week was over, and we had to leave a center and relocate our project headquarters, the seniors would shed tears, give us endless hugs and tell us they didn’t want us to go. We were given advice at almost every senior center, and a few quotes stuck with us, such as “Have dreams, or you will always have nightmares,” and “Always let your light shine.” Some of my colleagues even decided to get tattoos of these quotes. The rest of us wrote them in our journals to serve as our reminders for how to succeed in life.

Betsy Ethelessien surrounded by Elizabeth Next Gen Leaders at a Senior Home Interview

Personally, I was touched by one senior’s request – “I have no one to talk to. I don’t want you guys to go. Stay with me, or better still, take my address and visit me whenever you want.”

Personally, I was touched by one senior’s request – “I have no one to talk to. I don’t want you guys to go. Stay with me, or better still, take my address and visit me whenever you want.”

Not only did the seniors become attached to us, we also became attached to them – we were filled with emotion and grief when we visited a woman named Luz. She told us about the death of her two sons who died while teens, and about her daughter who lives in the Bronx, NY, and only comes to visit occasionally.  Luz kept telling us, “I don’t need anything, I am okay with what I have and need nothing.” But, we could see with our own eyes that nothing was okay with her. We came back, as did the other visitation teams, who also became teary eyed and were willing to help Luz in any way possible.

After a year of planning, the four weeks went very quickly. All in all, we are grateful and thankful to God that not only did this program become an everlasting memory, but that we were able to help seniors in our community with some issues and find new friends who felt like family and  helped us understand a little bit more about ourselves too.

Follow Elizabeth’s Next Generation Community Leaders team to see their progress throughout July. Track all of the Next Generation Community Leaders teams through the hashtag #NJLeaders2030.

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Project
Author
Betsy Ethelessien (age 18)
Organization
Groundwork Elizabeth