Resident Engagement

Jump to: Engagement STRATEGIES | Developing Your Marketing Message | Preparing Older Adults to Work with Children and Youth

Engaging Residents

Challenges Associated with Engaging Residents

Engaging residents in activities and programs is a universal challenge in senior housing. Here are some of the most common reasons older adults don’t participate in intergenerational programs:

  • Fear of the unknown and/or resistance to change.
  • Negative views of children and youth.
  • Reluctance to make a long-term commitment.
  • Preference for being served rather than serving as a volunteer.
  • Challenges with aging in place and/or functional decline.
  • Outside commitments or busy schedules among active older residents.
  • Activities that are not appropriate or appealing.
  • Challenges accessing transportation to off-site locations.
  • Barriers presented when older adults need to acquire background checks before they can interact with younger people.

Effective Engagement Strategies

Personal Outreach

  • Personally invite residents to become involved, emphasizing that their involvement matters and that they are valued.
  • Engage young people and current volunteers as volunteer recruiters.
  • Identify resident ambassadors to make phone calls or knock on doors to remind people when programming is taking place


  • Conduct “Bring-a-Friend” recruitment events.
  • Ask current residents to speak about their participation with intergenerational activities at meetings for new residents.
  • Convene a pilot group of residents who agree to participate in new programming, provide feedback, and engage additional residents.


  • Work with resident councils to develop and advertise meaningful intergenerational opportunities.
  • Use language that focuses on how older residents can benefit from and contribute to intergenerational activities, rather than just focusing on the activity itself.
  • Include information about intergenerational opportunities in the welcome packet that new residents receive.

Developing Your Marketing Message: The Creative Brief

Use clear messages to market your activity and/or program to your residents. Marketers often use a creative brief to help them develop these messages. Answering the following questions may help you develop some recruitment messages that resonate with your residents. The following is an example of a creative brief:

Who are you trying to reach and what are their functional/cognitive capacities?

Example: Our residents are primarily independent, but some have slight cognitive impairments. We are particularly interested in reaching those residents who are not involved in many activities and seem lonely.

How do residents feel now about engaging in activities with children and youth?

Example: Some residents say they like being with children, but they don’t show up on days when we have intergenerational activities.

What do you want your residents to think, feel, and do as a result of your efforts?

Example: We want residents to get actively involved in planning and participating in a variety of activities with young people. We want them to have fun, feel connected to people in the community, and feel good about themselves because they are helping young people.

What message about participating in intergenerational activities would resonate with residents?

You have so much knowledge and experience.

In addition to clear messages, you will also need good photographs to help people visualize the experience you are trying to promote. Create a bank of intergenerational photos or posters you can use to market your programming. Be sure to get photo releases from participants if you plan to use their photos to promote your program.

Preparing Older Adults to Work with Children and Youth

It is critical to orient and/or train older adults before engaging them in intergenerational activities. This training will help residents:

  • Understand the overall goals of the intergenerational program.
  • Appreciate the strengths and challenges of the age group with whom they will working.
  • Express their hopes and concerns about working with children and/or youth.
  • Develop specific skills that will enhance their effectiveness. These skills might include teaching reading, problem solving, listening, and communication skills.

The amount of training you provide will depend on the role older adults are asked to play in your program. If possible, invite staff members from your partner agency to join you in presenting the training/orientation. These staff members can provide a clear picture of the youth with whom your residents will be working.

When training participants, you should:

  • Draw on the experiences of residents.
  • Be sensitive to the literacy levels and cultural differences of participants.
  • Encourage residents to ask questions.
  • Stress the importance of confidentiality.
  • Encourage tolerance and respect regarding difference in values.
  • Highlight the strengths of young people and what they can offer residents.
  • Model good listening skills.
  • Be flexible. Change direction if an activity isn’t working.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback.

See Appendix C for sample orientation and training activities.