March 6, 2023
Late last year, I read an astounding National Opinion Survey report commissioned a by the nonprofit CoGenerate that asked, “Is America ready to bring older and younger people together to solve problems and bridge divides?”
The answer to that question is critically important for universities to know as they prepare their graduates to solve the intractable problems of the future and enter into the workforce with five generations present.
The answer? Overwhelmingly, YES. “A sizable segment of the younger and older populations is hungry for opportunities not only for intergenerational connection, but cogenerational action — the chance to join forces in co-creating a better future.” (https://cogenerate.org/research/cogeneration/) The barriers, however, feel immobilizing: Every generation surveyed cited the top obstacle: I can’t find opportunities to work with people of other generations.
“Some 42.6% of respondents said they hadn’t spoken seriously in the past year with non-family members of other generations about a social, community or political issue — and almost half (48.5%) of them said this was because they don’t spend much time around people of other generations.”
Having witnessed firsthand the intergenerational connectivity made possible by Mirabella at ASU, I reached out to CoGenerate Co-CEOs Marc Freedman and Eunice Lin Nichols to ask them if they’ve heard of University-based Retirement Communities, and invited them to see what is possible when a retirement community is centrally located on campus with a mission-aligned commitment to deep intergenerational integration with the campus community. To my delight, the whole CoGenerate leadership team flew out to Tempe to see for themselves.
During their visit, the CoGenerate team met with residents to learn about their experiences learning and engaging on campus, and they spoke with Musicians-in-Residence who live in the building and form deep bonds with the Mirabella community through a shared love of music and the arts. We discussed Mirabella at ASU as an innovation in both senior living and higher education (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/26892618.2022.2158512?src=) that effectively removes both the geographical and perceived boundaries between generations and makes it possible to create organic connections based on common interests and shared hopes for the future.
The team generously offered to facilitate a co-generational workshop at the Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC) annual conference the following day attended by 300 ASU students from 150 distinct majors who all are developing character-driven leadership skills and have begun to articulate their social missions – from homelessness and housing insecurity, to climate change and environmental, or gender equality in STEM. The workshop connected 20 Mirabella residents and 20 NGSC around these social missions to share ideas and brainstorm solutions to challenges the students were encountering. The Mirabella residents who have already completed their careers had abundant experience and insights to share, and felt energized in return by the students’ enthusiasm, knowledge of complex issues, and their dedication to implementing real world solutions.
One student who is majoring in urban planning shared her vision for designing the neighborhoods of the future that allowed more older adults to age in place. Mirabella residents offered their experiences with the challenges of aging in place and what the obstacles are of managing large homes long after children have moved out.
Co-Generate invited the mixed group to acknowledge challenges they identified in the workshop and encouraged them to be vulnerable. On students spoke up and asked, “what is the right term to use when talking about older people?” A dialogue was opened about how using the words “elderly” or “kids” makes it harder to connect to relate to one another.
“We feel so impressed by these young people,” one resident remarked. “We really feel like the future is in good hands.”
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