ITHACA, NY — A record breaking 45 student volunteers are helping build intergenerational relationships with Ithaca elders as part of Project Generations, a weekly visiting service organized by Ithaca College and the Tompkins County Office for the Aging.
“I am so excited to see Project Generations grow as an organization and I attribute our progress and growth to the hard work, dedication and passion of the executive board and members — enthusiasm is contagious,” co-president Mary Claire Hartford said. “We constantly survey our members and elders, asking what we do well, what we can change and what we can do better in order to improve our program and the overall volunteer experience.”
Project Generations was founded by a group of students in the fall of 2010 in partnership with the Tompkins County Office for the Aging. The group aims to reduce social stigma about seniors and recognize their value as community members with rich life experiences worth sharing. The Office for the Aging helps seniors independently maintain their quality of life as long as possible. Project Generations supports this mission by offering companionship, mental stimulation, and social support for the elderly.
Benefits of intergenerational relationships to seniors:
- Enhanced socialization: Intergenerational relationships fill a social need for elders providing a sense of purpose in life.
- Stimulated learning: Older adults learn new innovations and technologies from their younger counterparts – motivation and commitment to intergenerational programs comes when they feel they have contributed to their development.
- Improved health: Older adults who regularly volunteer with youth burn 20 percent more calories per week, experience fewer falls, are less reliant on canes and are less likely to suffer from depression.
Student volunteers and elders are paired based on personality, hobbies and skills such as crocheting, knitting, baking or playing card games. Transportation is also a key factor: volunteers with cars are typically paired with elders in their own homes, whereas volunteers without cars are frequently paired with those who live in assisted living facilities accessible by bus.
Once paired, the partners meet weekly throughout the year and participate in activities based on interests, where the older adult lives, and their cognitive and physical abilities. Some pairs prefer to simply chat with one another, where other pairs work on projects or take walks together.
“The connections we make with the senior community benefit something bigger than ourselves—and you can absolutely see it in the faces of those we volunteer with,” Hartford said. “Providing our time to visit, talk and assist others is the least we can do to give back to those members of this community that have given Ithaca the culture, history and vibrancy it has today.”
At the 2013 Ithaca College Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs (OSEMA) Recognition Ceremony in April, Project Generations received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Student Organization of the Year Award, and Outstanding Service Organization Award.