Three or four years ago, I was invited to a “Brownie Day” at the Adult Community Center (ACC) – the name my town gives the senior center.
The nine-year-old members of a local Brownie troop (young Girl Scouts) each made a batch of brownies herself from a family recipe as refreshments for an afternoon of board games with members of the ACC, elders all.
At first, we were a little shy with one another; after exchanging names we were not sure what to talk about. But the ACC manager, who knows what she's doing, soon had us settled down at tables for the games.
By the end of the afternoon, thanks to the silly board games we played together with the sugar high from the brownies that had us all laughing and giggling together as if we were drunk, we actually shared some real conversation about our lives.
[You can find out more about that afternoon in this post from 2014.]
There is, in recent years, a lot of conversation around the need for more intergenerationality. That word is a mouthful and it sounds dull as hell. In most cases, it is.
Meetings are held, studies are done and with a few excellent exceptions, nothing happens beyond bureaucratic-sounding checklists of items that don't produce much substance. Like this one:
• Get local foundations to support intergenerational projects
• Lobby local government to make intergenerationalism a core value
• Ask organizations that work with the young to collaborate with the old
You can't say anything is wrong with those ideas except that there is nothing specific to hang on to, nothing that says, “Hey, let's give this a try.”
What if people whose hearts and minds are moving in the right direction talked about, instead – oh, say
• Young folks helping elders with technology
• Young and old making music together
• Playing games – silly ones and, for example, chess too
• A hike and picnic with one another
• Cooking meals together
I'm sure you can come up with more activities that old and young can participate in equally – the kinds of things that grease the wheels of conversation among age groups that don't get to spend much time together, and especially that lead them to laugh with one anther.
Something close to that has been happening recently in and around the U.S. Capitol.
Last week, the Washington Post published a story about three 17-year-old high school students - Hannah Docter-Loeb, Kaela Marcus-Kurn and Aviah Krupnic - who started a group they named GTG Tech which, they say, stands for Generation to Generation and Grandkids to Grandparents and Giving the Gift.
”...they hold free training sessions at libraries, senior centers and community halls once a month [in the Washington, D.C. area]. It’s a nonprofit, volunteer group that’s growing as their friends join in to help.
“But it’s not like they’re trained computer experts, the girls reminded me. They’re working on the simple, everyday tasks that digital natives take for granted.
“'We just grew up in this, so we know how to do it,' said Kaela, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.”
Here's a short video produced by One News Page about GTG Tech:
A whole lot more is going on than showing an 80-year-old how to text her boyfriend, or helping an 87-year-old who didn't understand how to use Wi-Fi:
”...there is also something magic about the formula, the intergenerational exchange that happens when young and old interact, especially when they aren’t related.
“'It’s like a blood transfusion. It’s about more than computers,' said Renee Dunham, 78, after the teens helped her with text messaging. 'I learn a little bit about their lives. How they organize their lives, their phones. What they’re listening to or what tech they’re using.'
“And, Dunham observed, it came with no strings attached. No long debates with her granddaughter about her hair and make-up, no reminders to tell her grandson not to slouch.
“'Like you can’t teach a family member to drive. That never works,' Dunham said.”
I'm not a sociologist nor a child psychologist, but those clauses I bolded strike me as right on the money with families. GTG Tech has been wildly successful both in terms of popularity and what young and old are getting out of it which is much more than instruction.
”Although it might be easy to make fun of Grandpa when he brings in his three maxed-out Hotmail accounts and isn’t sure how to delete emails,” writes the WaPo reporter, Petula Dvorak, “the teens have learned that he was once a hottie who flew warplanes. Or the lady walking with a cane used to be a ballet dancer.
“On a recent rainy Saturday at the Chevy Chase library, every GTG Tech slot was full. And for three hours, the teens gave digital advice to many interesting seniors: a retired linguistics professor, a pioneer FORTRAN programmer, a former wire service reporter.”
Grandchildren notwithstanding, few of us have opportunities to spend real time with people of a generation so different from our own, nor do many young people have reasons to hang out much with elders unrelated to them.
But in the case of GTG Tech, everyone is getting an up close and personal insight into what each other's lives are like - which is what happened to me with Brownie troop.
Do they give you any ideas? (The photos in this story are from the GTG Tech website which you will find here.)