California Health Report: How uniting kids, elders helps both

July 18, 2016 – It’s a solution for two problems at once: children desperately need mentors to guide them, and isolated seniors yearn for more connection and meaning. The growing intergenerational activities movement received a powerful jolt last year when the Los Angeles-based Eisner Foundation sharpened its focus to solely support intergenerational programming.

“We’ve very excited and optimistic since they became really the first major foundation to focus on intergenerational solutions,” says Donna Butts, executive director for the national advocacy group Generations United. Butts now predicts that “Los Angeles County can be one of the top counties in the country to value and engage people of all ages.”

In a world seemingly more divided each day, intergenerational programs offer connective solutions that benefit everyone. Kids get the attention they crave – sparking better performance at school – while their elder counterparts enjoy improved emotional and physical health.

Why the Eisner Foundation’s new emphasis on intergenerational programming?

“The simplest reason is that it works,” says Trent Stamp, the foundation’s CEO. “We’ve seen the data kind of overwhelmingly assault us over time —working with primarily low-income seniors and primarily low-income kids.”

Eisner grant recipient Jumpstart for Young Children saturates 13 preschools with adult mentors over 55 in underserved LA neighborhoods — Compton, South LA, East LA and Echo Park. As many as six senior volunteers are placed in preschool classrooms ranging in size from 15 to 22 — an astonishingly low student-teacher ratio that promotes rapidly improving literacy rates.

“The research shows that by the time children enter kindergarten there’s already a large literacy gap between children from more affluent communities,” says Christine Manley, program director for Jumpstart LA. “Having more adults per child makes for a higher quality learning environment.”

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