Program Design

Jump to: Range of Program Ideas | Selecting a Program or Activity | Tips for Designing Group Activities | Activity Planning Worksheet | Culturally Sensitive Programming

Design of Programs and Activities

Range of Program Ideas:

Many housing providers develop discrete, stand-alone intergenerational activities. However, it is best to design a set of connected activities that occur over a longer period of time. These connected activities can address a specific topic, theme, or need in the community, and will allow for deeper levels of relationship-building and a sense of shared purpose. Planning and implementing meaningful intergenerational activities requires considerable staff time. Few housing communities have staff dedicated solely to intergenerational programming. However, many housing communities integrate intergenerational programming into their overall activity plan.

Here are some possible programming ideas:
High school students and residents from Hebrew SeniorLife in Dedham, MA,
paint a mural together to brighten a parking garage that connects resident
housing to the community center.

Arts: Music, theater, dance, poetry writing, or visual arts are all wonderful and popular ways to foster cross-age relationships. A performance or art show can connect more people from the broader community to your program. Try creating a quilt with images of your community’s history or photos of different age groups, or work with a visual artist to create a mural.

Tutoring and Mentoring: Many housing organizations are eager to create opportunities for residents to support young people. Older adults across the country are tutoring children to improve language and literacy skills. They are also mentoring young people, including those in foster care, supporting students with special needs, organizing after-school homework clubs, and providing professional development for young adults.

Language Learning: The needs of a growing immigrant population have motivated many housing providers to develop programs designed to enhance the language skills of both young people and older adults with limited proficiency in English. Older residents in some housing communities teach English to members of the broader community and help immigrant youth apply to college. In other communities, students tutor older adults who do not speak English or come to the housing community to practice a new language they are learning. For example, 2Life (formerly Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly), a housing community in the greater Boston area, established a Russian Conversation Club with students from Boston College. Students and residents meet together to practice language skills, share meals, attend cultural talks together, or invite guest speakers to give a presentation to the club.

Joint Community Service Projects: Several housing communities engage with the broader community on service projects, including working with youth on environmental, nutrition, and other school-based learning projects. For example, youth and older adults can volunteer together at a local food bank, or a housing community can open a food bank on-site and involve local youth in its operations. Older adults and youth can also work together on environmental projects that focus on conservation and science education; or read the same books as part of students’ course work.

Technology: Many housing providers have forged partnerships with local schools and universities to help the housing community address its technology needs and build the skills of residents. Existing programs include mobilizing high school and university students to serve as tech tutors for residents, managing the resident computer lab, teaching a computer skill like using Skype and sending e-mail, or participating in technology-related clubs.

A high-school student teaches a resident of Life’s Garden, a HumanGood community in Sunnyvale, CA, about her Kindle as part of the “Teaching Tech” program.

Physical Exercise: Walking (and chatting), yoga, Tai Chi, and Nintendo Wii bowling leagues are all great ways to connect youth and residents for some active fun. Think about ways your outdoor space can be used for this type of programming. Do you have walking paths? Is there an exercise/yoga instructor who comes to your community and might be willing to teach younger students too?

Friendly Visiting: In many communities, students visit with older residents on a regular basis. Friendly visiting programs involve youth of many different ages and can occur throughout the day, including at lunchtime, after school, and on the weekend. Residents and youth share stories, take walks, and engage in informal activities together.

Community Histories: Youth and elders can interview each other about major events in their community and how life in the community has changed over the past 50 years. Stories and photographs can then be organized into an exhibit or put on a digital platform. You can also ask youth and elders to interview each other about challenges they have faced and how they overcame those challenges. This activity can be a powerful way to look at the strengths people of all ages exhibit in the face of adversity.

Health-related Activities: A major category of programming relates to improving resident health. Many housing providers participate in training programs that provide concrete services to residents while giving students in the allied health fields the opportunity to practice clinical skills like checking blood pressure and vital signs, conducting intake interviews and assessments, and providing physical and occupational therapy services. Other housing providers have recognized the importance of leveraging the talents of social science and nutrition students to offer counseling, support groups, case management, and healthy cooking classes and workshops.

It is important to offer a continuum of intergenerational opportunities so residents can engage with different age groups, in different ways, for varying lengths of time. Make sure you develop opportunities for older residents to serve in helping roles to children/youth and for young people to support elders.

Gardening/Healthy Cooking: Growing vegetables is a popular activity across all ages. If your community has the space for raised garden beds, consider creating a community garden with students or a youth group, and then offering opportunities for youth to learn how to prepare healthy, simple snacks. Complement your community garden project with one of the several established curricula on healthy cooking and shopping, such as Cooking Matters. Additionally, the YMCA and local food banks might have demonstration kitchens and gardens they could use to lend a hand with the instructional portion of the program.

Selecting a Program or Activity

Residents of Hopeton Terrace Senior Housing Community, a National Church Residences’ community in Chillicothe, OH, participate with local students in a “Healthy Eating” program facilitated by the Ohio State University Extension Office.

When determining a focus for your programming, consider the following questions to see if your idea is a good choice.

  • Is the proposed activity/program idea appropriate for the age, abilities, and/or cultural background of participants?
  • Does the activity/program fit the mission of all partners and is it likely to lead to desired outcomes for all participants?
  • Will the activity/program foster meaningful interaction between participants and build intergenerational understanding?
  • Are there sufficient staff and financial resources to run the activity/program?
  • When is the best time to offer the activity/program? Be sure to consider both age groups when making your decision.
  • Is there adequate space to conduct the activity/program?
  • Is transportation an issue? Is there a community van that can be used? Where will participants meet and how will participants get to the meeting place?
  • Will refreshments be provided? Is it possible to obtain food donations from your community partners or use your housing budget to cover expenses?

Intergenerational activities don’t all have to be brand new initiatives. If you are already organizing an art, theater, or exercise class for residents, invite younger people to participate and encourage cross-age interaction.

Tips for Designing Group Activities

Residents at Vernon Heights, a Lutheran Senior
Services affordable housing community in Lebanon,
MO, play balloon volleyball as part of the community’s
partnership with the Lebanon Area Homeschoolers

When determining a focus for your programming, consider the following questions to see if your idea is a good choice.

  • Make sure the activities you select will foster cross-age interaction and achieve identified program goals, such as building trust, teaching a skill, or increasing cross-age understanding.
  • Involve participants in planning activities so they will be invested in those activities.
  • Provide opportunities for participants of all ages to share their knowledge, skills, and talents with one another.
  • Balance structured exercises with informal interaction.
  • Provide easy-to-read name tags. Ask participants to wear them throughout the project. This will help everyone avoid the embarrassment of forgetting someone’s name.
  • Allow participants time to process or reflect on the activity by engaging them in a discussion of what they learned about themselves and others.
  • Provide opportunities for long-term collaboration. For example, ask participants to work as a team to create a piece of artwork, build a community garden, or write a history of a neighborhood.
  • Be mindful of participants’ physical capabilities. For example, when painting a mural, provide chairs for participants who may not be able to stand for extended periods, and step stools for participants who have limited reach.
  • Start small and expand the activity or program based on initial successes and challenges.

Activity Planning Worksheet

Culturally Sensitive Programming

When designing activities involving a racially and/or ethnically diverse group of older residents and/or youth, be aware of differences regarding cultural norms, values, and communication patterns. Understanding the role that culture can play in promoting meaningful relationships, or creating barriers to those relationships, is critical for successful programming. To ensure that your programs are culturally sensitive, consider:

  • The ways older adults and youth in certain cultures are expected to interact. For example, in some cultures, elders expect young people to listen more than they talk, and not to question an authority figure. How can you help young people appreciate and respond to these expectations? How can you promote mutual respect and engage participants in joint decision making?
  • How verbal and non-verbal communication patterns differ across cultures. For example, different cultures may have different norms relating to making eye contact, touching while talking, perceptions of silence, personal space, and topics that are inappropriate to discuss with a stranger. How can you educate elders and youth so they will be sensitive to these norms?
Students from San Francisco’s Wallenberg and Washington high schools meet residents of El Bethel Arms,
a HumanGood affordable housing community in San Francisco.