Intergenerational Recreation: When generations meet, everyone wins

This is a story that was published in the August 2017 edition of Edmonton Prime Times. The editor was Maurice Tougas.

In the summer of 2015, GEF Seniors Housing opened Ottewell Terrace, welcoming more than 50 seniors to their new homes and over 70 children. On the main level of Ottewell Terrace, Primrose Place Family Centre, one of Edmonton’s oldest not-for-profit daycare centres, found its new permanent home. A staple in the East Edmonton community, Primrose Place Family Centre approached GEF Seniors Housing with the idea of building a day care in Ottewell Terrace.

Next door to Ottewell Terrace are two other GEF Seniors Housing buildings: Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place. Where Ottewell Terrace is a completely independent living apartment, Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place both offer lodge accommodations, which means a full recreation program for the residents. GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek points out that it didn’t take long to make the connection between the lodge’s recreation programs and the operations at the daycare centre.

“In no time, the residents at Ottewell Place and Ottewell Manor were interacting with the children,” says Swonek. “The residents love reading to the children, taking part in arts and crafts, and just spending time with them.”

grandfather reading

Intergenerational recreation is a trend that is picking up. More seniors associations and youth organizations are teaming up with the intent of providing meaningful connections for the populations they serve. The science and research behind intergenerational recreation programs brings up many interesting benefits.

The benefits for the children involved with intergenerational recreation include improved academic skills, better social skills, decreases in negative behaviours, and increases in social stability. Children see an increase in self-esteem, problem solving skills, and an appreciation for seniors and aging when involved with these kinds of programs.

Where the benefits for the children revolve around their development, the benefits for seniors focus on their continued health. A 2004 study in the Journal of Urban Health shows that seniors burn 20 per cent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less dependent on canes and other walking aides, and had better cognitive skills. Another study from 2003 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dimentias showed that older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments saw significant improvements in their overall mental health during interactions with children.

Senior and Kids Garden

The social and health benefits of intergenerational programs do not surprise Shelley Sabo, Community Animator with Sage Seniors Association. Her work on Sage’s Age-ing to Sage-ing program brought together seniors and youth in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood. Activities included gardening with the Little Green Thumbs program, knitting and crocheting, organizing a back-logged school library, relaxation exercises, and helping out at school events.

“Seniors have so many gifts to share with the community and it is only a gift if it is given,” says Sabo. “This project created an opportunity for many seniors to share their gifts with their community and develop some caring relationships that benefitted both the seniors and the youth.”

Age-ing to Sage-ing focused its efforts in the Beverly neighbourhood because there are a high number of seniors and children who would greatly benefit from their company. Sage’s report on Age-ing to Sage-ing points out that some of Edmonton’s diverse neighbourhoods tend to have pressing social needs among seniors and youth including poverty, multicultural and intergenerational conflict, and declining community spaces. With a focus on recognizing that seniors have many talents, skills, and gifts they can share, Sage wanted seniors to realize that they still had so much to contribute to their communities, which was a new concept to many of the seniors who participated.

Seniors Kids Art

“The Beverly neighbourhood has so many strengths and it is important to keep their seniors in the community,” says Sabo. “One of the seniors involved with Age-ing to Sage-ing actually contacted Schoolboard Trustee Ray Martin and started a community conversation about turning the old Rundle School into a new intergenerational community centre. At the two community conversations hosted by the Edmonton Public School Board, more than 130 people turned out at each event to share their ideas.”

The seniors in the Beverly neighbourhood also saw some connection from the Abbottsfield Youth Project with the Love Grows Here program, which paired elementary school children with seniors living at Porta Place apartments and the Beverly Place lodge on an art project. The art piece was created over five sessions between the students and the seniors and saw a gala-style unveiling for the community on December 1, 2016.

Sabo sees the intergenerational programs all over Edmonton as much more than something to help keep seniors busy. At the core of every one of the programs has been the community connection that drives people to give something more.

“I remember one senior who was suffering from depression and she decided to take part in Age-ing to Sage-ing,” says Sabo. “For her, there was nothing better than going three blocks to her neighbourhood school where she had an opportunity to give something back.”

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