Enjoy this guest post from Nita Wilkinson. She shares her story of briding Generation Z to Traditionalists! Such an encouraging story! - Leslie
“It has been said that when everyone is certain that something can’t be accomplished, someone goes ahead and does it anyway.” Ira Thut, Manager of West Liberty Homes 1977
It all started with a bake sale. The small town of West Liberty had a dream of a “senior citizen village” that would allow them to age with purpose and dignity. The financing of $1 million had the dream fading. But a women’s sewing circle refused to give up. They planned a bake sale that netted $2,232, and the dream was taking shape. Seven years later, a legacy was formed.
“Our purpose is to meet the total needs – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – of the older person, to offer a secure environment, a sense of dignity, and to help him retain his lifestyle. We believe in a ministry to the aging whose personal needs we have special concern. We believe in a ministry with the aging as we seek to involve them as partners in the total program. And we believe in a ministry of the aging in which their special gifts of maturity, understanding, vision, concern, and experience is recognized and utilized.”
Those words are so progressive. More than 40 years ago, in 1972, they spoke in terms that many aging services providers strive to live by today. Those words have driven the culture at Green Hills for 45 years.
That progressive thinking continues at Green Hills today with the Techy Teens Savvy Seniors program. The original objectives were to create an intergenerational mentoring program with the teens mentoring the seniors on technology. What happened was so much bigger than any of us imagined.
In the first meeting, there was some nervousness and shyness on both sides. As they met and learned about each other, there was just a great connection. The teens and seniors hit it off and formed close relationships that none of us anticipated. It originally was planned for once a month, but the teens begged to come more, so we did twice a month.
While the seniors happily learned about e-readers, smartphones, and social media, the teens quickly realized that these elders were a wealth of knowledge and experience. The teens wanted to build on the technology and the value of the elders, so they created many social media challenges that paired a senior with a teen. There were scavenger hunts, carpool karaoke, and the favorite activity; teaching the elders the whip and the nae nae.
When the new program was announced to the seniors, there was a lot of excitement. Many of them had smartphones and e-readers that they knew offered more than just phone calls. Marjorie couldn’t wait to learn how to send the same email to all her sisters. She was retyping the whole email for all 4 of them! One of the teens fixed her question the first day, and she was thrilled at how easy it was.
Ruth came to my office a couple of days after we announced the new program was coming. She had a brand new iPad, still in the box with the wrapper on it. She asked if the teens would help her figure out “what this thing was.” Her grandson proudly gave it to her for Christmas but didn’t advise her on using it. She took it to her next family Christmas with books, games, and social media on it.
The biggest surprise was how quickly the teens understood the value and experience the elders had. They were soon doing videos with interviews about their proms, their sports, and how the seniors navigated the computer era coming to their jobs that had always been paper.
The teens invited the seniors to a basketball game since several of the kids played or cheered for the local high school. The athletic director set up a VIP section for the seniors and gave them snacks “on the house” all evening. The teens also did a pizza “tailgate” with them before the game. The conversation filled the room with laughter and friendly banter.
Nancy, one of the elders, shared a memory of playing girls basketball when she was in high school. She reminisced and told Liz, a star girls basketball player and a techy teen, how she wished they could have played full court. Liz was appalled and said she would have fought it. Nancy explained that they were lucky even to get to play; no one even thought of asking for more. This was such an awesome moment as the kids realized how Nancy’s generation started opening doors, so they have so much available to them today.
The teens also put together a prom for the seniors at Green Hills, including those in the nursing center and assisted living. The young men dressed up and escorted the women in. (Even those in wheelchairs). They crowned a king and queen and fed them lunch.
What started as a simple program grew into life-long friendships. The teens invited their favorite seniors to their grad parties. And all of the savvy seniors were invited to the teen's graduation. The school once again embraced them by giving them special places to sit and immediately access the teens after the ceremony.
Several of the teens did a presentation about the program for a DECA competition and couldn't hold back tears during that presentation because they knew their time was coming to an end.
The techy-teens, savvy-seniors was beneficial to both generations in so many ways. They have all learned the value of others and how we learn from each other.
The relationships that formed were lasting. I never in my wildest dreams thought they would grow so close and continue to communicate long after the first round of teens graduated.
They understood how other generations live and that they both have so much to offer. The seniors learned how responsible the teens are as they handle jobs, get good grades, and still do extracurricular activities. And they have learned so much from each other.
Green Hills has benefitted from the energy and creativity of the teens. Many of them have become volunteers for events for all of Green Hills.
Bellefontaine High School has benefited from the experience and knowledge of the residents.
The world tells us teens are irresponsible and selfish and that elders are antiquated and useless. The Techy-Teens, Savvy Seniors will say to the world there is value in both generations and extra joy and love when you allow them to partner and share.
Ira Tuth would have loved to see these folks going ahead and doing it anyway!